Since her earliest days observing wildflowers in the woods at her mother’s knee, Catherine Reed was in love with the natural world. The daughter of a biologist and a geneticist, she was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1948, attending University Lab High School, where she skipped her senior year to attend Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. There she studied biology and met her husband of 48 years, Norman Westhoff, in the chapel choir.
After college Reed taught English and biology for two years in the West African country of Ghana. Then she earned a Master’s of resource ecology from the University of Michigan, and a Doctor of Arts in biology from the University of Northern Colorado. While living in Iowa she taught biology to nursing students and had three children: Benjamin (1977), Alex (1979), and Julia (1981), the latter born at home.
After the family moved to Mankato, Minnesota, Reed taught college chemistry. In 1989 they moved again, to the Twin Cities to be near her aging parents. There, Reed published a newsletter to help foster elementary school teachers’ interest in science.
Their home was walking distance from the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota, where Reed studied insect ecology and did research in an entomology lab. Her fondness for nature informed her mid-career switch to art. In the 1990s she became increasingly focused on elaborate textile constructions – quilts and hangings with imagery of nature, often mixed with fantastical abstract themes.
In 2004, she and Westhoff moved to San Francisco to help care for his mother, and Reed continued her art at a local studio. For several years they lived in a solar-powered cabin near Ukiah, where she grew a rainwater garden.
Artistically, she hit her stride in the last decade of her life, creating multimedia exhibitions in their new home of Lawrence, Kansas, closer to their daughter’s family. Her shows The Jungle (2016), Avalanche (2018), Reading the Rocks (2019), and Living Islands (2020), were outsize presentations of yarn, beads, cloth, and other fabrics, dozens of separate pieces combined to invoke the whimsy and grandeur of the natural world. Her work continued even after she was diagnosed with ALS, complications of which led to her death on May 25, 2021, aged 73.
She is survived by her husband, her brothers John Beasley and William Reed, her children Benjamin Westhoff, Alex Westhoff, and Julia Westhoff, her children’s partners Anna Westhoff, Sean McCormick, and James Senter III, and her grandchildren Olivia, Daisy, and Catherine Senter, and Paul and Luther Westhoff. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to Baker Wetlands in Lawrence.
Her memorial service will be held on Monday, May 31 at 1 pm, beginning at Warren McElwain Chapel, 120 W. 13th St., Lawrence.