Former NBC-2 News anchor Rachel Pierce is living her dream. After 17 years in TV, she left in 2020 to pursue her lifelong passion, once her donated “celebrity” artwork became so popular with nonprofits and others that she created an online store, byrachelpierce.com.
During the pandemic, she spent a year as an artist-in-residence at J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, and moved to Sanibel with her husband and four children in late 2020. That December, her art was featured at the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center.
In 2021, she launched an Evocateur jewelry collection that’s already in more than 150 boutiques, and created a beachy SPF clothing line that’s manufactured by an Orlando company. This year, she opened the Rachel Pierce Art Gallery at 1571 Periwinkle Way on Sanibel, where her artwork is displayed alongside her jewelry, painted clothing, pillows, tote bags, coasters, pop-sockets, greeting cards, face masks and other items.
“I’m dreaming big,” says Pierce, who specializes in abstract coastal art using oils and acrylics. “I want to be in stores, on notecards, curtains, clothing, hats, prints and original art.”
She focuses on Florida wildlife, beach-scapes and underwater life; colorful, swimming sea creatures, such as manatees, loggerhead turtles, jellyfish and seahorses, as well as wading shorebirds and flamingos. To ensure she captures the anatomy and motion correctly, she studies photographs and videos.
Art has always been part of Pierce’s life. She grew up in northern Wisconsin and her mother was an artist, so she started young, went to shows and took classes. In college, she studied art and the business of art, but earned a mass communication degree, got hooked on TV news and worked at stations in the Midwest and Washington, D.C., as well as the BBC. She left her Des Moines evening anchor job in 2015 to work as an NBC-2 morning anchor in Fort Myers and spend more time with family.
As her popularity grew, she got involved with the community and was sought after as an event emcee and celebrity artist. It was a donated “celebrity” platter painting for a Ronald McDonald House fundraiser that led to nonprofits and others clamoring for her work.
“When people weren’t winning the bid, they asked me if they could buy a piece. It took off from there,” she says.
She didn’t expect to leave TV news, but during the pandemic, she realized she could make a living as an artist. At the time, the national refuge—which is named after a Pulitzer Prize-winning artist—was looking for its second artist-in-residence. There, her art gained more attention, especially on Sanibel. In July 2021, she and her husband purchased the Periwinkle Way building for $925,000 and spent months renovating it into a gallery with a second-floor studio, and held a grand opening in February.
Instead of waking up at 1:45 a.m. for her news job, she can spend mornings with her kids, now ages 3-12, get them to school and drive to her gallery, where she checks inventory and orders and speaks with staff before going upstairs to paint for hours.
She doesn’t donate paintings to charities anymore, but still donates to Ding Darling, painting on linen shirts provided by its nature store, with all profits going to the refuge. For charities and others, she auctions off three-hour “experiences.”
“You can bring six people to the gallery, and it’ll be food and drinks and we’ll create something together,” she says. “They’ve been selling for a lot. The most one went for was $8,000.”
For customers, she’s painted art to match every room in a home in muted and monochromatic colors, art for a yacht, murals, even a piece for the selfie wall at the Sanibel Chamber of Commerce. “I’m trying to keep true to myself, but still give people what actually fits into their homes,” she says, adding that she’s painted bedroom walls, headboards and ceilings. Her art also is displayed in many businesses, including Gulf Star Marina, Avalon Dental and the Law Offices of William G. Morris.
Toni Westland, Ding Darling supervisory refuge ranger, says Pierce did plein air painting along Wildlife Drive, painted a mural, showed her art in their gallery and held “Paint with Rachel” workshops, where kids could create a tote for a teacher and paint shelves and other fun projects.
“People could watch her paint and talk to her,” Westland says. “She’s creative, dynamic and inviting—she’s awesome. People loved it, and I just love that it’s a continuation of Ding Darling and art.”
“Her paintings are accurate, yet fun and funky. They’re also colorful,” Westland adds. “Nature is so colorful, but she brings it to life like no other artist.”