Blue Grama - Head       Native Grasses
of the Apache Highlands
by Matilda Essig

My journey as an artist has always been inspired by the integrity of land-based cultures. The inspiration to focus on grasses came from hearing a senior steward, rancher John Donaldson, talk about his 30 years of working to restore the land health on the Empire Ranch. While I was unable to see the different species he was pointing out, I could clearly hear in his story an amazing perspective of how, over time, the return of native grasses, with their deep root systems, had helped to bring back the groundwaters. Eager to learn this “language of the earth,” I combined my traditional background in painting and drawing with the modern tools of digital scanning, and began to explore grasslands and watersheds throughout the greater American west.

Each species, each character, has a story to tell about how and why it is adapted to its particular biotic niche in this challenging, arid landscape. In large format, people can encounter the grasses face to face—head to head— and discover that there is as much variation to this thing called “grass” as there is to humanity. From their beauty, we may glean lessons of resilience.

I trained for years as a classical painter—using only north light and grinding my own pigments—an archaic purist. My interest in natural science illustration, however, caused the hybridization of my creative method. While I originally began scanning my subjects in order to better see and draw them, I found the scanned imagery so inspiring that I resolved to elevate the scan itself to an art form. While drawing communicates one reality, the scan communicates another—a direct expression of the life form, with its own intuitive message. In offering a fidelity that transcends my own hand, I am hopeful that the experience of seeing the grasses here, in art, will inspire the viewer to likewise discover them in nature.

For more information, and to inquire about prints of the art in the exhibition, please visit or email the artist directly at

For updates on events in conjunction with the exhibition, visit Amerind’s events page at

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and on her blog at

  About the Artist

Matilda Essig grew up in the eastern woodland of Pennsylvania, in a world full of art and agriculture. She received her BA from Reed College, and was trained in classical painting and drawing at the Art Students League of New York. After 10 years working in natural science illustration in the Sonoran Desert, she returned to fine art with the tools of the future, and began to use digital imaging technology to explore the subtle diversity of open space in the American West. Inspired both by the beauty of grasslands, and by her perceptual experiences in traditional illustration, she now portrays her subjects with a fidelity that transcends her own hand. Her work is in private and corporate collections, national parks, and wildlife refuges throughout the southwest. Her clientele has included Dr. Jane Goodall, National Geographic, the US Department of the Interior, and Oxford University Press, among others. She lives on five acres of grasslands that she restored in the Apache Highlands of southeast Arizona. She keeps a traditional painting studio too.

  About the Calligrapher

Robert Palladino is a priest and calligrapher, who lives and works in Sandy, Oregon. Having begun his study of letterform as a Trappist monk, he eventually left the monastery and began to teach at Reed College, where his student included a young Steve Jobs, who went on to design a computer that would be "type-friendly" as a result. Palladino has had a celebrated career in the liturgical arts, including Gregorian chant, and been a lifelong mentor, spiritually and artistically, to Matilda.
"Suite of Five Gramas"
"Color and Light"