Meeting My Kin
ESSAY & WATERCOLORS BY SARAH REEDER
This series was inspired by my mother, who shared with me the tradition of medieval illuminated bestiaries and planted the seed of the idea that I could paint my own bestiary of the creatures in my local community. After discovering Robin Wall Kimmerer’s powerful essay in Nature, Love, Medicine arguing for using the pronouns ki and kin to describe our non-human neighbors, I began to think of the series as a way of meeting my kin and becoming acquainted in a more intimate and personal way with the complex web of creatures in my midst.
The parameters of the project were simple: I cut dozens of small rectangles of watercolor paper and set the intention of painting a portrait to document each newly noticed member of my kin as I became aware of them in my daily walks near my home. This act of looking transformed my relationship with what I saw, and it was shocking to finally truly see for the first time creatures I’d been living among for years. I was not interested in depicting them with photorealistic accuracy but rather hoped to capture an essence of personality in the portraits, a sense of the unique individual presences that revealed themselves to me the longer I spent among my kin. All but one of my paintings were portraits I saw firsthand—the black bear was photographed by others along my regular path, which I considered enough evidence to make an exception for. A few like the coyote are sadly posthumous portraits, my form of resurrection for them after mourning their roadside discovery.
I am by no means done—the assembled portraits represent only a beginning of acquainting myself with my kin rather than an exhaustive completed catalog. This is merely where I have reached on my journey. I am sharing this series with the Loam community to express the beauty and wonder that surrounds so many of us without us ever realizing it, and to present a model of a creative project that could easily be adapted by everyone for their own local environment. When we respect the act of looking and listening to our greater kin, it is a wonderful surprise to learn that they have been patiently waiting for us to finally recognize them and introduce ourselves.
Sarah Reeder is an artist and illustrator in Virginia. She is keenly interested in the intersection of art and nature and exploring creative expression as a form of environmental advocacy. Sarah especially loves painting plants and animals and can often be found in her pollinator garden with her rescue dog.