David Lauderdale

Closing this colorful Hilton Head art gallery ends important era for Lowcountry art

Nancy Voegele poses in the Pink House Gallery at Main Street Village on Hilton Head Island.
Nancy Voegele poses in the Pink House Gallery at Main Street Village on Hilton Head Island. dlauderdale@islandpacket.com

At the end of the day Friday, Nancy Voegele will close the door of her Hilton Head Island art gallery for the last time.

After 34 years of operating the Pink House Gallery, she will retire. The mom-and-pop business in Main Street Village will go dark. And an important era of the arts on Hilton Head will quietly end with one last turn of a deadbolt lock.

“I’ve always liked it,” she said. “But I’m glad, too, that it’s ending.”

She’s glad it’s over because at 78, she’s ready to see a little more of the world than running a shop six days a week will allow. And she’s tired. And for the past couple of years, business has not been good.

She’s sad because she worked with a lot of interesting people — the 15 local artists she kept on display and customers of all types.

The shop was named for the big pink building on William Hilton Parkway, near Folly Field Road. Voegele and Dorothy Howard opened the gallery upstairs, until Voegele bought her out three years later and moved to Mathews Drive.

Before the Pink House, Voegele had run the Tatler Gallery for Wayne and Sally Tatler for eight years. Her work in the arts stretches a total of almost 50 years.

But her significance on Hilton Head was not limited to selling art and doing custom framing, even though she’s considered a pioneer in the field.

Her significance was much more personal.

“Nancy Voegele has over those many years shaped the futures of hundreds of local artists as well as several artists with national reputations,” our art reviewer Nancy Wellard wrote two years ago.

And she always worked with the schools.

In the shop now stripped to bare walls as everything must go, a framed award testifies to her years of hard labor for island children.

It praises her contributions to An Evening of the Arts, a gala fundraiser for the Island School Council for the Arts.

She was there when it began in 1980, raising money for extra arts education at island schools. She said she ran it for 16 years, working alongside others for an event that highlighted the suspense of seeing whether a piece by Joe Bowler or Walter Palmer would bring the greatest five-figure bid.

In this award, tacked to a door, Voegele was thanked “for sustained commitment to the promotion of arts in the public schools, and especially the Arts in Education program.”

Also on the door is a South Carolina Business and Arts Partnership Award praising her for understanding the importance of art in daily lives.

Bluffton artist Louanne LaRoche sees Voegele from the perspective of an artist and an art retailer, as she for many years ran the landmark Red Piano gallery near Sea Pines.

“She’s always been so gracious and supportive in being at every opening and bringing friends — so generous with her time in supporting all the galleries,” LaRoche said.

“She put so much time in to enrich our community.”

LaRoche said it’s hard work physically, with a lot of time standing and lifting heavy objects. It also comes with the pressure of deadlines, particularly for finishing jobs during the important Christmas season.

Voegele said her six-day weeks have aided by major helpers over the years, especially Marsha Layman, and her son Daniel.

Voegele is not an artist.

She’s a native of Illinois who taught school there and in Arkansas, Germany and North Carolina before moving to the island with her former husband, Phil, and their sons Daniel and Bill.

“I should have stuck with teaching,” she said. “I could have retired 15 years ago, with a pension.”

But she said she has no regrets.

“I’ve always liked it,” Voegele said. “I really enjoyed doing this until the last couple of years. Art as a retail business has not been good in recent years. It was disappointing when things started going downhill.”

People have been streaming in to say goodbye. They see it as the end of an era.

Voegele hopes to spend more time with her five grandchildren.

But for now, her long era of embracing and promoting the arts on Hilton Head is ending “because I want to go home and go to bed.”

Thank you, Nancy.