With Kentucky wild lands as inspiration, Pine Mountain Collective lands at Revelry

An artists’ retreat at Pine Mountain | Photo by Greg Abernathy

Revelry Boutique Gallery in NuLu will host a different kind of show this weekend when it presents works from the Pine Mountain Collective, a name for the graduates of an artist’s residency offered by Kentucky Natural Lands Trust (KNLT).

Once a year, the trust invites artists to Pine Mountain for a weekend of inspiration and creation. Revelry owner Mo McKnight Howe, a board member of the trust, helps organize the yearly retreat and offered to host an exhibit featuring some of the works created by the collective.

“Fall” by Geoff Carr | Courtesy of Revelry

Insider spoke with KNLT executive director Greg Abernathy about the land trust, its history and goals, and why it’s important for the art created by the collective to be shown to the public.

Abernathy, who is from Ohio, first came to Kentucky as a student working on a degree in land management and forest ecology from the University of Kentucky. 

He’s worked in conservation for several decades, including the last five-and-a-half years at the trust, where he recently accepted the position of executive director.

KNLT, a nationally accredited land trust, was formed in the mid-’90s with a mission focused on Kentucky ecology.

“We’re working to connect, protect and restore the wild lands throughout the commonwealth,” he says. “The majority of our work is focused on Pine Mountain and southeastern Kentucky.”

Pine Mountain may not be familiar to a lot of Louisvillians, but it’s an important part of Kentucky’s biosphere.

“Pine Mountain is a 125-mile ridge that runs from Tennessee through southeastern Kentucky to Virginia. It’s primarily a forest and migratory corridor that goes through a region that has historically had a lot of intense resource extraction, but it has remained intact,” says Abernathy.

Greg Abernathy in the Bad Branch State Nature Preserve | Photo by James Shambu

In Kentucky, “resource extraction” frequently means coal mining of one variety or another. Pine Mountain has escaped that fate mostly through serendipity.

“It doesn’t have merchantable coal,” he says.

Perhaps because of the diminishing land around it, Pine Mountain has a huge amount of biodiversity.

“It’s home to thousands of species, nearly 100 of which are considered rare, and some that are not found anywhere else on the entire planet, except right on Pine Mountain,” explains Abernathy. “Our work is primarily focused on biodiversity but dovetails into the region and the transitioning economy, and how our lands provide recreational facilities and provide all sorts of benefits as far as clean air, clean water and climate mitigation.”

For the last few years, the trust has tried to foster appreciation of Pine Mountain by inviting artists to stay for the weekend. Their food and lodging are taken care of, courtesy of the organization.

“The Pine Mountain Collective is the name we’ve given to the artists who come and spend a weekend with us at one of our artist’s retreats. These are a diverse group of artisans we’ve pulled together — they’re from all kinds of backgrounds, and it’s a wide definition of art,” says Abernathy.

“A Dream from Within” by Craig Kaviar | Courtesy of Revelry

The retreats also are a collaboration with professors at Transylvania University and UK, and they’ve been held since 2015.

“Collectively, we’ve hosted over 100 artists for weekend retreats,” he adds.  

While many of the collective’s members are from Kentucky, it also includes artists from Chicago, San Francisco, Miami, Boston and New York City. And the retreat isn’t just about giving artists a quiet place to work for a couple of days.

“The intent is to kind of immerse the artists in the work we’re doing and expose them to it,” he says. “We really think what we are doing is bigger than just Kentucky.”

During the weekend, the artists stay at the Pine Mountain Settlement School, which is a historic landmark. The artists hike, see the mountain up close, hang out around the campfire, and do other activities to bond as a group and experience what KNLT works to protect.

“The hope is that the artists leave with a newfound love of Kentucky, or building on a love of Kentucky,” says Abernathy. “The region is a place where a lot of people haven’t been, so I think they’re often surprised to see what the far reaches of Kentucky have to offer.”

“Blackburnian Warblers” by Greg Abernathy | Courtesy of Revelry

While the goal is for that newfound love to produce art and to send ripples throughout the artists’ personal networks, the trust doesn’t even actually require the artists to create something to take part in the residency.

“We have no specific requirements, we just hope it will inspire them,” he says.

Abernathy can personally attest to the inspiration that comes from the mountain, as he’s an artist himself in his spare time.

“I do all kinds of stuff — I do glasswork and illustration, for the show I’m doing, they’re laser-cut wooden birds that are hand-painted. That’s what I’ve been kind of obsessed with lately,” he says.

“Kentucky Wildlands: A Pine Mountain Collective Group Art Show” opens with a reception on Saturday, March 10, from 7-10 p.m. The exhibition continues through April 4. Revelry Boutique Gallery is at 742 E. Market St.

To get a little of your own inspiration, check out the video below about Pine Mountain, courtesy of Kertis Creative: