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    Cover photo: “Fall,” by Geoff Carr

    "A Dream from Within," by Craig Kavlar. Forged iron.

    About four hours southeast of Louisville is a Shangri-La filled with several rare species of flora and fauna: Pine Mountain. “It’s like no other place I’ve ever been. It’s almost like you’re in a rainforest. ... Birds from Brazil migrate there every year — they only migrate to Pine Mountain,” says Mo McKnight Howe, owner of Revelry Boutique Gallery in Louisville’s Nulu neighborhood, where an exhibit has just opened that features works produced by the Pine Mountain Collective. This group of artists, gathered together by the Kentucky Natural Lands Trust, takes annual retreats to eastern Kentucky and produces work inspired by the lay of the land.

    On a bustling Saturday night at Revelry’s “Kentucky Wildlands” opening, Howe chatted about her double-duty as board member at KNLT and artist in the collective. The retreat experience had clearly made an impression on her. “The sights, the smells, the sounds, the animals — you don’t see them anywhere else,” she said. “A three-hour hike takes five with artists because they are all just like, ‘Woah!’” Smiling, she added, “No one knows about this place. I just feel like it’s my duty being a board member, and being an artist. I have to spread the word.”

    "Blackburnian Warblers," by Greg Abernathy. Laser-cut wood and paint. 

    But the 125-mile ridge running from Tennessee through southeastern Kentucky and just across the Virginia border is in danger of becoming paradise lost. An important migratory corridor for species including black bears, Monarch butterflies and various birds, Pine Mountain is free of merchantable coal, but under constant threat from man and nature. Active limestone quarries, natural gas wells and logging operations dot the mountain, and invasive plant species compete with the native vegetation. Through various initiatives of the Kentucky Natural Lands Trust, many across the region and beyond are working to ensure the health and sustainability of one of Kentucky’s natural wonders. At the opening of “Kentucky Wildlands” at Revelry, KNLT executive director Greg Abernathy spoke over a pleasant soundtrack of evergreen indie rock about how the arts are a terrific way to promote the important conservation work the organization is doing.

    And it isn’t limited to fine arts. “We’ve had architects, writers, musicians. The definition of art is broad — if you let it be,” Abernathy says. KNLT does focus on Kentucky, but rolls out the welcome mat for creatives from other states as well. “What we are doing is bigger than Kentucky. It really has ramifications that are further reaching,” Abernathy says, “and (Kentucky has) a really rich cultural history, too, and so we’ve been able to intrigue people to come spend a weekend who’ve never even set foot in Kentucky.” From these visits, published works in music, poetry, literature and other mediums have been born — all out of Pine Mountain.

    Ultimately, the goal is to promote the conservation and tourism of Pine Mountain and other natural sites — here and everywhere. For “Kentucky Wildlands,” Howe has curated an exhibit from the collective’s pool of 100 artists, presenting 16 with 16 different points of view portrayed through nature’s lens. Works on display represent mediums such as painting, video instillation, sculpture and woodwork.

    "Near Bad Branch," by John Brooks. Oil on board.

    Abernathy, who has a piece in the show, proudly observes his cohort’s work, “The diversity of takes is incredible. I love seeing all of the interpretations.”

    “Kentucky Wildlands” is on view through April 4, 2018 at Revelry Boutique Gallery (742 East Market Street). For more information, visit or


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    About Michael Jester

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