Arts & Humanities Campus News

Regrowing forests: Kristin Leachman’s environmental abstractions

Kristin Leachman, “Longleaf 1,” 2020. Oil on canvas on panel, 54 × 72 inches. Courtesy of Kristin Leachman.

A new exhibition by artist Kristin Leachman at the Georgia Museum of Art focuses on close-up views of the patterns and biology of the longleaf pine and its ecosystem.

Leachman, who lives in California, traveled across the country to view deforested and reforested longleaf sites in southwest Georgia as part of her “Fifty Forests” project. Her resulting work, a series of painted biomorphic abstractions of pine bark, examines longleaf’s complex history and human attempts to revive its population. “Kristin Leachman: Longleaf Lines” will be on display at the museum July 23, 2022, through Feb. 5, 2023.

Once a vast swath of the southeastern United States spanning 90 million acres, the longleaf ecosystem’s footprint declined to a mere 3 million acres in the 18th and 19th centuries due to rapid industrialization and the rise of the railroad. The lands would have disappeared entirely if not for the booming popularity of quail hunting in the 19th century and the need to preserve the lush longleaf understories where quail thrive. A free coloring book available in the galleries, designed for the exhibition by illustrator Katie Mulligan, allows visitors to explore and engage with the rich biodiversity of longleaf habitats.

“The essence of these old-growth trees, their interconnectivity to the landscape and its history, is what I wanted to evoke in my paintings. I was moved by the connections between the trees, the gopher tortoise, the birds, the butterflies and the parallel historical realities of turpentine, Colonialism, capitalism, the Civil War, railroad ties, ship masts, naval stores and quail,” Leachman said.

“Kristin Leachman articulates the relationships between painting and nature, from the biological phenomena that she traces in her abstract surfaces to the artistic materials that she employs,” said Jeffrey Richmond-Moll, curator of American art. “In fact, Kristin is pioneering the use of reclaimed earth pigments, produced from minerals like iron oxide pulled from U.S. riverways historically polluted by mining. In this way, her paintings visually depict and materially support efforts in environmental conservation.”

The bark of the longleaf pine is scaly, thick and made up of red and brown hues. Leachman’s paintings capture the patterns and shades of that bark while representing the human impact of reforestation, including prescribed burns, a forestry practice that stretches back thousands of years. She highlights the tension between humanity’s ability to coexist with the environment and the extraction of natural resources.

Much of the old-growth longleaf pine population is currently on private land across south Georgia, limiting people’s access to these majestic and hidden spaces. Leachman’s paintings provide an immersive experience that plays with scale and form, generating a sense of intimacy with this often-hidden ecosystem and its species.

Related events include:

  • a Teen Studio program for ages 13 to 18 (July 28 from 5:30- 8 p.m.)
  • a Toddler Tuesday for ages 18 months to 3 years (Sept. 6 at 10 a.m.)
  • an artist talk by Leachman on Sept. 22 at 5:30 p.m.
  • and Student Night, organized by the Georgia Museum of Art Student Association (Sept. 29 from 6:30-8:30 p.m.).

All events are free and open to the public. Teen Studio and Toddler Tuesday require advance registration by emailing Student Night is sponsored by the UGA Parents Leadership Council.

To learn more about longleaf pines or the artist, visit her website at