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Planting Utopia

In the spring of 2021, artist Julia Whitney Barnes began to research the herb garden at the Shaker Heritage Society, in Albany, NY, located a brief walk from Albany International Airport. The Society is located on the site of the Shakers’ first settlement in the United States, known as the Watervliet Shaker community. Its herb garden pays homage to the significance of the Shakers’ herb cultivation, and seed and medicinal herb industries. Over the course of a year, Whitney Barnes collected a specimen from each of the 150 herbs grown in the garden, which she pressed and documented.

With this collection, the artist produced two site-responsive installations, this one at Albany International Airport and one at the nearby Shaker Heritage Society on the interior and exterior of the historic 1856 Drying House. For the installation at the Albany International Airport, which occupies former Shaker lands, Whitney Barnes developed a series of eight cyanotype paintings on paper with plants collected from the Shaker herb garden. Their compositions were based upon nineteenth-century Shaker ‘gift’ or ‘spirit’ drawings that were complex, divinely inspired revelations of spiritual perfection, often symmetrical and incorporating botanical elements. These eight original paintings were reproduced on aluminum panels and will be sited in the first-floor pedestrian walkway between the south parking garage and main terminal. Planting Utopia will be on view for a minimum of three years.

Laura Moriarty, Stream, 2021-2022
Encaustic prints on mulberry paper, Sumi-ink prints on mulberry paper

Portia Munson, Cosmos, 2015, photographic print on fabric, Baggage Claim

In Cosmos, the vibrant, delicate segments of flowers common to our Hudson Valley region are carefully arranged to resemble the bursting, spinning celestial bodies that inhabit the far reaches of our sight. Drawing upon the bounty of her own garden, the artist infuses this busy, built environment with contemplation of the world around and far beyond. In 2021, Cosmos was re-located from its original site on Concourse B to the Baggage Claim area.

Deborah Zlotsky, Flight Plans, 2019, digital print on vinyl, Ticketing area

The geometric patterns in this composition are based upon paper airplanes folded by employees throughout Albany International Airport who were invited to contribute to this project. After collecting the planes, the artist unfolded them and then traced their creases into this fifteen-part sequence. The white lines on varying shades of blue ground echo the contrails of jets as they cross the sky, or blueprint renderings for simple, elegant flying machines.