Thank you Kate Donnelly for giving me the opportunity to speak here today. Anyone who knows me, knows I can talk…….. So Kate has given me exactly 7 minutes to tell you how The Chestnuts came to be.
Before I start though, I would also like to thank, Rachel Blair & Jean Gault-Jaeger who have kept this boat afloat these last years and to Denise Hawkins and Gayle Levee for paddling right now and for Cathleen Windham, who I have just met and has promised to take this thing to the next level. I am amazed by all of you and your dedication. And I apologize right now for all the people I will not have time to thank today since I now only have 6 minutes and 30 seconds left.
My name is Kim Barrick. Many people over the years have accused me of starting The Chestnut Group. I am here today to set the record straight.
All I had was an idea. And it wasn’t original.
Sometime in the summer of 2001, I ran across and article in an American Artist magazine about a group of California painters, who called their pack The Oak Group. What I tell people that article said was that these artists were painting at a lovely spot on the coast when they discovered the piece of property had been purchased for development. I remember from the article that the members of the group took their paintings, sold them and gave the money to a group fighting the development. Denise and someone else, have rummaged around and uncovered that magazine article, so I hope what I have been spreading around all these years is accurate.
At that time, I had been painting outdoors less than a year, and mostly badly. But I loved it, and needed a reason to allow myself the privilege to do more of it. Consider me an addict if you wish, but this idea of doing something that made me feel so whole and complete and peaceful was too much good stuff for me to handle. I have always believed that happiness is found in the giving, not receiving, so the idea that I could paint outside and help the environment was a combination that felt intoxicating to me. I needed my fix and here it was free of guilt. Maybe that is the only difference between a “problem” and a “calling”. With this article I found my passion and a mission. “Sweet” as my teenagers would say.
So I looked up my first landscape painting instructor, Connie Ericson and shared my idea with her. She immediately liked it, and said she would contact some of the established outdoor painters she knew. Meanwhile back at Cheekwood, I had enrolled in another landscape class, and met most of the people who would bring this idea to fruition. Stand up if you were in that class……Our instructor was an artist from Kentucky who was actively pursuing national artists hoping to bring workshops to our area. She already had a guy I had never heard of named Matt Smith coming to town, and wanted to throw in with us.
So I took my magazine article, which I carried around like the Holy Grail, to my favorite environmental group at the time, The Nature Conservancy. I had talked my way into a meeting with a young staffer there who agreed to discuss my idea. I later figured out that her job was really one of a gate keeper. Apparently nut jobs like me were always calling up with swell ideas to “help” their favorite causes. But I had a clear vision of what I wanted to do-HELP. I knew the agencies were as strapped for funds as any starving artist. So I offered help, and asked for nothing in return but approval for the plan: Let us give them [The Nature Conservancy] the money we would raise selling our paintings.
This is really important to remember. Lots of folks have great ideas about combining efforts, but The Chestnut Group was founded on the idea that we exist for the benefit of the agencies we support.
I have asked Amy Jerome (Gardner at that time) why The Nature Conservancy agreed to partner with us. She always just smiles. But I believe it is because we started out believing in our mission first, to protect the land we love to paint.
So on November 10, 2001, more than a dozen of us were graciously invited to gather at Kelly Creek Farm, a pristine hollow in Northern Williamson County. This bastion of biodiversity is lovingly protected by Margaret and Paul Sloan. The Sloans’ offered enormous support and more importantly credibility to our fledgling group. Without the Sloans’ championing our efforts we would probably not be the same group today.
On that day, Connie brought in some of the most respected outdoor painters in our area, along with my enthusiastic recruits. We united efforts and here we are 10 years later. Please stand if you froze your bum at Kelly Creek that day!
One more really important thing. The early years were messy and complicated with us trying on different events with different groups and trying to steer a bunch of artists in one general direction. I used to say herding cats, but toddlers might be more accurate (e.g. “look over there, that’s so beautiful”!- a cat would never say that). I confess I thought the group would grow to a dedicated dozen artists. I still have trouble getting my head around the 130+…what is the number of artists who call themselves nuts?
Sorry, dirt road. Okay so back to one other critical moment that everyone should know. There was a key meeting fairly early on that effectted almost everyone here. We [The Chestnut Group] had finally been granted our non-profit status by the Great State of Tennessee thanks to Susie Weiss and Laurie Thompson-Tucker the finest attorney/accountant combination on this side of downtown. We Nuts were meeting in my dining room with Dawn Whitelaw, Paula Frisbe, Jason Saunders and a bunch of others. The discussion that day was centered on whether or not The Chestnut Group was going to be a closed group with signature members. I have a vivid memory on this one probably because I believed I would not make the cut. I remember saying that I was glad to go with whatever the group decided and if there would be signature members, I would work my hardest to earn the right to be included. But Dawn Whitelaw, one of the most gentle and kindest artists I know, spoke up. She told us that there were so many exclusive groups out there and that because of our mission this group needed to be open to anyone who wanted to help. We can all thank Dawn for her mastery at keeping our hearts right that day.
So now you have my version of how it all got started. The almost 7 minute story. I hope you heard three things today. First, no one singular person started this group. It took so many people with different ideas all pulling in the same direction. Second, the larger community has embraced this group of artists like no other because of our generosity and selfless mission. And third, thanks to one voice, everyone is welcome here.
So look around. It took everyone wearing a badge today to make this group as fine as it is today-still vibrant and healing and important to so many people and causes after 10 years. I am grateful to all of you for keeping the generous mission alive and potent.