Revelry Boutique Gallery is turning 8 years old and celebrating with a new show by one of the gallery’s favorites — Bobby Hinkel.
Revelry owner Mo McKnight Howe spoke with Insider about Hinkel’s new show, “3/8ths,” growing as a gallery, creating relationships with artists, and the next phase for the store, which is enjoying growing pains (more on that later).
The shop — which features creations big and small from local artists, as well as hosts gallery shows — has been in NuLu for four years after getting its start on Barret Avenue a few doors down from the former Lynn’s Paradise Cafe.
Though the business has been profitable and visible since that move, Howe still feels like she’s reached a high-water mark in the last year.
“I feel like it’s self-sustainable for the first time,” she says. “I feel like it can run without me, which is the biggest accomplishment when you’re a small-business owner, especially when for years it was just me.”
According to Howe, she isn’t the only person whose financials have solidified with Revelry’s existence.
“It’s not just me, it’s the artists,” she explains. “So many of my artists now — especially since the hotel went in and NuLu has been growing and tourism has been growing — our artists are making so much more money than they used to. It’s really been such a win-win for me and my artists.”
It’s also been a win for the employees at “The Rev.”
“We don’t really have turnover. If someone leaves us, like Molly (Huffman), it’s because they have to move. I love the people we have … and they all love it,” says Howe.
Those same employees are another example of the way Howe encourages local artists.
“Part of working at Revelry is they have to produce work. They have to be artists,” she says. “They can’t settle on working in retail. I want them to have art at Revelry.”
A staunch supporter not only of local artists but of local businesses, Howe had concerns at first when the AC Hotel moved into NuLu, right across the street from her Louisvillians-only art shop.
“It’s kind of scary for all of us — it’s the first chain to move into NuLu, the first non-locally owned business. We didn’t want to like it,” says Howe. “But the fact of the matter is, it’s a great feeder for our businesses. It’s a great anchor. It brings more tourists into the area.”
In addition to giving credit to the hotel, Howe also gives shout-outs to the convention and visitors bureau.
“They have really spent money and time — nationally. You know, ‘The City of Louisville’ and ‘bourbonism’ and all that. They’ve been doing a great job,” she says.
Howe is smooth and informed when she talks business, but her passion for her boutique comes through when she’s talking about the relationships she has with artists.
“The artists we’ve had three or four shows for, I feel such an affinity, such a love. … They’ve been with us since we were small and nothing was promised,” she says. “People like Lyndi Lou and Bobby (Hinkel) and Julio (Cesar) and Erik Orr.”
The evolution of Hinkel’s work in particular is a great story, which came from a chance conversation.
“I met him through our mail lady,” Howe admits. “We needed jewelry displays, and she was, like, ‘I know a friend that works in wood.’ He came in and showed me some jewelry display he made. He would make us shelves and wooden things we hung jewelry from, that’s how he started. And then I was, like, ‘You’re really good at this, you could do stuff that’s just art.’ ”
Howe says that watching an artist like Hinkel grow is one of the great joys of running Revelry.
“We’ve evolved together — he’s evolved into an incredible artist, we’ve evolved into a really great art gallery. I watched his children grow up. It’s a really special relationship.”
Hinkel’s charm is that despite a great eye for design and a continued growth as an artist, he still sounds like a guy you’d trust to fix your transmission or build you a table. He’s just a guy who’s really good at working with wood.
When he started as an artist, he was working in a factory, and the broken wood of shipping pallets, wood destined for the trash heap, became his medium. It’s likely that lack of pretension makes his art — in both design and execution — feel so fresh.
Insider has only seen a few photos of the new work, but it shows an exploration of sparser fields with circular forms. It’s a huge step away from the tight lines of his early work, though he retains an interest in symmetry so exact that it’s almost geometric.
“He never wants to stop. He’s never settling on like, ‘Well, this is the work I do.’ He’s always willing to push the boundaries on what he can do and what his tools can do,” says Howe.
She values that need to keep going, in part because it’s a mirror for her own ethos.
“He’s not a settler. Just like me. I’m not going to settle just because Revelry is doing great. I’m going onto the bigger and the better,” she says.
We may be waiting a little while for that bigger and better, or we may not. Howe has ideas, but she’s isn’t willing to rush them.
The question for successful businesses is almost always: Is there a second location on the horizon? It’s definitely a question for Howe, because she says the NuLu location is bursting at the seams.
“We don’t have enough room,” she says. “I’m trying to find new little nooks for art, and we’re on top of each other. But we have the best retail space in NuLu. So I never want to leave, (but) I want to show 500 artists, not just 150.”
Howe confides she’s actively looking for new real estate.
“I’ve looked in Lexington, I’ve looked in Over-the-Rhine in Cincinnati, we’ve looked in New Albany, we’ve looked in Norton Commons. I mean, the mall. We’ve looked everywhere … but we haven’t found the right fit. I have to be inspired by a place when I walk into it.”
Wish the whole Revelry crew happy birthday and check out Bobby Hinkel’s newest show “3/8ths” on Friday, Aug. 3, with an opening reception from 7 to 10 p.m. The exhibit continues through Sept. 4.
Revelry Boutique Gallery is located at 742 E. Market St.