Beyond the ASBA Artist and Education Grant

2012 Grant Recipient Kathleen Garness Continues To Move Forward with Conservation and Education


Kathleen Garness received her $1000 Grant for her project to create workshops in different regional natural areas near Chicago, providing outreach for inner-city and underserved audiences on the use of Botanical art to communicate scientific concepts.

Since project completion, Kathleen has not skipped a beat in her efforts to conserve, educate and promote awareness in her area. A number of us were inspired by a recent addition to Kathleen’s Facebook page, “I've been thinking a lot about how our conservation community more closely follows the parish model and not a corporate one, in trying to work together, understand process, honoring the sacredness of our earth and in one another, gathering together in affiliative, place-based communities with similar beliefs and interests, sometimes working at cross purposes or even in direct competition, but always working together for a more beautiful purpose. Oh, and so our cathedrals, then, are our restored natural areas, built over generations by the loving hands, hearts and hard work of many tireless individuals.”

Follow Kathleen’s experiences in her own words, as she reviews her many activities since 2012. Receiving the 2012 ASBA Education Grant was very energizing and I want to thank you again for this wonderful opportunity! Organizing seven beginning botanical art classes, dedicating the entirety of the grant funds to purchase of 70 artist-quality colored pencil field sketching sets, enabled the ASBA to come to many new Chicagoland audiences: college and high school science teachers, museum professionals, inner city low-income students, people with disabilities, retired teachers and other professionals. I taught seven classes in Cook, Lake and Will counties, and they were very well received. But there was only one problem so far as I could see: the classes finally came to an end!

I was hopeful for continuing opportunities of this nature, and thought of other audiences: natural areas restoration volunteers; high school students; ecology professionals; CEOs who needed to slow down, take an intimate view of nature, and recharge; homeschooling moms; and faith-based education program personnel. Before I had even wrapped up the last class, the Forest Preserve District of Will County scheduled me for another class for mid-September 2014. The Balaban family, with whom I had worked on the Common Plant Families of the Chicago Region, invited me to teach a small group at Harms Woods, a two hundred fifty-acre Forest Preserve near Glenview Il. This effort was part of one of their natural area restoration outreach programs to high school students through the Niles Public Library. At the end of September I will be offering the same program to volunteers for the North Branch Restoration Project of the Cook County Forest Preserves, at one of their most beautiful sites, the Tyner Center at Air Station Prairie:

This spring and summer has been incredibly busy for me with rare plant monitoring through the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Plants of Concern program. Prescribed burns in several sites and abundant spring and summer rains, coupled with unseasonably pleasant temperatures, have shown excellent native orchid recruitment across a variety of monitored populations. We were able to track down three different species in one day at a single high-quality site this July! Two of those I have yet to document in my series of native orchid paintings.

Last year the Illinois Native Plant Society published my paper on the Waukegan Moorlands in their journal Erigenia, (a primarily a scientific journal, peer-reviewed). The Illinois Native Plant Society has been around over thirty years, was founded by noted Illinois botanist and author Dr. Robert Mohlenbrock. ) My paper researched decline of the area’s orchid flora, and discussed how ongoing generations of nature advocates are necessary to preserve our natural heritage for future generations. In order to find out what happened to the native orchids of northeastern Lake County Illinois, we had to collate all the historical species lists from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources database, scientific papers, stewards’ plant lists, and surveys taken by the Illinois Natural Areas Inventory over a period of forty years. (This project also turned out to be very helpful to state and county land managers in writing federals grants and developing long-term management objectives. In addition we added another 200 documented species to the previous list of 650.)

Another appointment was a spot on the editorial board of the Native Orchid Conference Journal; have contributed a number of articles and illustrations to this peer-reviewed publication as well. Also have been editor of the Illinois Orchid Society's newsletter for two years. Last year, Dr. Dennis Whigham from the Smithsonian's Environmental Research Center asked me to put their North American Orchid Conservation Center banner on my Facebook page of the same name. Out of a bit of a sense of frustration about the prevalence of orchid 'eco-tourism' and a lack of prominent folks building awareness for conservation needs, I established social media presence for North American native orchid conservation four years ago - we have almost 600 followers on that page right now!

I’m not entirely sure how I do all of this with my full-time job as an early childhood education professional. Much less put in at least twelve hours per month volunteering in natural areas restoration and/or monitoring. But it doesn’t feel like work to me. Every new species I encounter teaches me something new about our region’s local flora. Every new invasive species we tackle gives me more appreciation for the dedication of thousands of natural areas restoration volunteers and their uphill battle protecting our region’s biodiversity. The goal of our drawing classes was to get people to slow down, look a bit closer, stand in wonder at this beautiful thing we call nature. And though ostensibly I was the facilitator of these experiences, I also became the student, slowed down, looked closer, felt more appreciative and wonder-filled.

Somehow I’m going to fit in a few new paintings for my solo show November, 2014 at the historic Oak Park Conservatory. I’m not sure how, but I already have some ideas. And that’s the first step, heaven willing!

Kathleen Marie Garness 

Steward, Grainger Woods Conservation Preserve, Mettawa, IL

Volunteer, Plants of Concern, Chicago Botanic Garden

August 2014

  • Oak Park Conservatory, Oak Park IL where Kathleen is Artist-in-Residence
  • Entrance to the Kent Fuller Air Station Prairie/Tyner Center , Glenview Park District, Glenview, IL
  • Classroom in the Air Station Prairie/Tyner Center where Kathleen had been invited to teach colored pencil field journal work for North Branch Restoration Project volunteers.