Like many other artists, I love to paint orchids from life. They are so enthralling.... and not just because orchids are so beautiful and bizarre – they are also the most evolved plant family on the planet! Perhaps our fascination with orchids is much like looking in a mirror and seeing a parallel in another life kingdom? Maybe it's no surprise that hybridizers have been consciously or unconsciously striving for more and more round, face-like shapes in our modern plants?

Orchids have been around for a long time - their pollen has been found in fossilized amber dated to be over 60 million years old, and scientists think that the earliest orchids were around up to 90 million years ago – that's during the time of the dinosaurs! There are over 20,000 species of orchids and many, many more human made and natural hybrids. They live on every continent except for Antarctica and comprise almost ten percent of the world's flowering plants. Thirteen species of orchids live north of the Arctic Circle and some live in southern Tasmania, not far from Antarctica, disproving the common belief that orchids are only tropical. In fact, more than 50 species of orchids have been documented from Illinois, my home state, alone!

Primarily working from life, first I make pencil studies, and then transfer the drawings to 100% rag Fabriano watercolor paper or Canson toned papers. Carefully working with delicate glazes of watercolor, I strive to capture their spirit and form in all stages of bloom.

Part of the context of my work is my ongoing participation in regional and international orchid conservation. In 2009 I had the privilege of being invited to present a session at the Native Orchid Conference (at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay that year), on the topic of Challenges and Strategies for Native Orchid Conservation in Illinois and the Chicago Wilderness Region. I was also invited to contribute articles and illustrations to many publications, including Illinois Audubon, Chicago Wilderness magazine, the Native Orchid Conference Journal, Illinois Steward magazine and Orchid Conservation Coalition. I enjoy volunteering for the Chicago Botanic Garden Plants of Concern program, doing citizen science monitoring of several species of locally rare plants. Working with Orland Grassland steward Pat Hayes was a wonderful way to develop relationships with the conservation community in Chicagoland. We were asked to design and implement the Chicago Wilderness passport program, to more deeply involve young people in natural areas stewardship activities.

Volunteer work for researchers at the Chicago Botanic Garden and elsewhere has offered a unique window into the artistic connections between ecology and the lure of the beautiful as well as shown me the tensions between wildlife under pressure and the exigency of human needs. In particular, our elusive and disappearing native orchids highlight the close and subtle interrelationships within the natural world. Because orchids are so sensitive to their environment they have much to teach us about living in harmony with nature



2020-present: editorial board, Guild of Natural Science Illustrators
2020: membership chair, northeast chapter of Illinois Native Plant Society
2019-present: Science affiliate, Field Museum
2019-present: Science and Conservation affiliate, Morton Arboretum
2017: Artist-in-Residence, Forest Preserves of Cook County
2016-present: natural areas steward, Hosah Park, Zion Park District
2015: Chicago Audubon Society award: Protector of the Environment – Avocation
2015: Illinois Association of Park Districts volunteer award, from Forest Preserves of Cook County
2015: present: social media admin for Native North American Orchid Conservation and Wild Things
2013-present: designed bandanas for The Nature Conservancy in Illinois, highlighting our natural features
2013: Artist-in-residence, Oak Park Conservatory: created educational materials for visitors
2012: updated botanical inventory of the Illinois Beach Plain for the Illinois Dept. of Natural Resources
2012: $1,000 teaching grant from American Society of Botanical Artists, for seven region-wide classes
2010: Botanical watercolor painting of yellow lady slipper orchid complex accepted into Smithsonian-sponsored exhibit, 'Losing Paradise? Endangered Plants Here and Around the World (five venues, including the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, and Kew Gardens, London)
2005-2019: book sales coordinator for Chicago Wilderness' biennial Wild Things Conference
2004-present: Steward, Grainger Woods Conservation Preserve, Lake County, IL.
2001-present: Plants of Concern Rare Plant Monitor, Chicago Botanic Garden


2021: Juliet Kirby Award grant from American Society of Botanical Artists (which initiated and supported this project)
2008: Chicago Wilderness Grassroots Conservation Leadership Award
2006: Plants of Concern Citizen Science award, Chicago Botanic Garden

Exhibition Summary

Endangered Beauty

Endangered Beauty: The Orchids of the Chiwaukee-Waukegan Lake Plain by Kathleen Marie Garness, Scientific Affiliate, Field Museum Science and Conservation Affiliate, Morton Arboretum

2012: Solo exhibit: Wondrous Things, Independence Grove, Libertyville, IL
2012: Solo exhibit: The Botanical Eye – Orchids and Other Wonders, Oak Park Public Library
2012: Group exhibit: Mother Earth - Oak Park Art League, Oak Park, IL
2011: Acceptance into Illinois State Museum Artisans' program
2011: Carriage House Gallery Juried National Exhibition, Oak Park, IL
2011: Solo exhibit, Drawing to Nature; Oak Park Conservatory
2010: Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Chicago, IL - Trees
2009: Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Chicago, IL – Amazing Amphibians
2009: Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Chicago, IL – Paradise Lost: Species affected by Global Warming
2009: Acceptance into juried ASBA exhibition, Losing Paradise – Endangered Plants Here and Around the World: Missouri Botanic Garden, St. Louis, MO; Chicago Botanic Garden, Glencoe, IL; New York Botanic Garden, Bronx, NY; Smithsonian Institution's Museum of Natural History, Washington D.C.; and Kew Gardens, London, England.
2008: Ryerson Woods natural history art exhibition, Drawn to Nature
2008: Ela Library: Reed-Turner Woodland Artists' group exhibition
2008: Chicago Wilderness' Disappearing Treasures - Gems from Plants of Concern
2006: Books About Books – Chicago Hand Bookbinders' annual exhibition of artists' books: Univ. of Wisconsin, Milwaukee; Northwestern University Library, Evanston; Joan Flasch Library, Art Institute of Chicago
2005: Rush Hour Concert Series: One-woman exhibit of natural history artwork, Episcopal Cathedral of St. James, 65 E. Huron St. Chicago.
2005: Chicago Hand Bookbinders – A Salute to Audubon's Birds of America – Northwestern University Library
2004-2012: Chicago Botanic Garden Illinois Orchid Society exhibitions
2003: Cheney Mansion orchid exhibit, Oak Park IL
2002: Oak Park Conservatory botanical art group exhibition
1996-2012: Artist member exhibitions, Oak Park Art League
1999-2003: Fiber arts demonstrations, Graue Mill, Hinsdale, IL
1999-2004: Morton Arboretum Nature Artists Guild juried members' show
1991-1997: Wild Goose Chase Gallery: quilts, basketry and other fiber arts
1981-1990: Palette and Chisel Academy of Fine Arts: Gold Medal Exhibition, Harriet Bitterly Award Exhibitions and Auction Show. Municipal Art League Annual Exhibitions, Hyde Park Art Center staff exhibition (1987).


2011: Bedstraws of the Chicago Region, with Gerould S. Wilhelm, Ph.D, Conservation Research Institute
2022: ERIGENIA, Number 28, Spring 2022, pp 74–76 (scientific journal of the Illinois Native Plant Society)
2022: ERIGENIA, Number 28, Spring 2022, pp 1–4
2021: Our Role in Native Orchid Conservation, Wild Ones Journal Vol. 34 No. 3
2020: Ferns and Lycophytes of the Chicago Region, with Gerould S. Wilhelm, Ph.D, Conservation Research Institute
2019: Dunesland Habitat Guide, Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, IL
2019: Illustrated glossary to Flora of the Chicago Region, 2017, Indiana Academy of Science
2017: Wild Things conference poster, Flora of the Illinois Duneslands (with Carol Freeman)
2013: ERIGENIA, Number 26, Spring 2013, pp 2–6
2012: Illustrated editions of The Little Gospels, Liturgy Training Publications
2012: Common Plant Families of the Chicago Region, Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, IL
(as principal investigator, with Rebecca Collings (scientist, Field Museum) and John Balaban)
2011: Keys to Nature: Orchids; Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, IL (with Bil Alverson Ph.D)
2011: Illinois Steward Magazine: Trilliums
2010: Orchid Conservation Coalition article: Orchid Conservation Strategies
2010: Trilliums – limited edition book with poetry by Susan L. Post, Illinois Natural History Survey
2010: Journal of the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators "Fugitive Pigments: An Overview"
2009: A Passion for Orchids: Chicago Wilderness magazine
2008: Illinois Audubon Society, fall issue: illustrated article on Illinois' orchids
2007: Chicago Wilderness Fieldbooks (for youth stewardship education, sponsored by Audubon)
2007: Natural Events Calendar, Friends of the Forest Preserves
2004-08: Articles and illustrations, Habitat Herald, Audubon Chicago Region
2002-10: Native Orchid Conference publications: illustrated articles on orchid conservation