Julia Whitney Barnes: Planting Utopia
July 16, 2022-January 17, 2023

From 2021-2022, Julia Whitney Barnes photographed and collected specimens from over 150 plants in the herb garden at Shaker Heritage Society, in Albany, NY, a brief walk from Albany International Airport. The Society is located at the site of the Shakers’ first settlement in the United States, known as Watervliet. Its herb garden pays homage to the significance of the Shakers’ herb cultivation, and seed and medicinal herb industries. With this collection, the artist produced two site-responsive installations, one at Albany International Airport, in the first floor walkway between the south parking garage and ticketing, 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. Whitney Barnes often works with the cyanotype process, which is an early cameraless photographic process that was invented in 1842, the same time period the gift drawings were being created. Objects or transparencies are placed on paper or fabric coated with cyanotype chemistry and then exposed to light to create various hues of white to light blue silhouettes on rich, blue backgrounds. Through the use of this cyanotype medium, Whitney Barnes manipulates pressed and dried plants from the herb garden along with intricately cut photographic negatives. For her works on paper, the unique blue and white prints are just the beginning and then she paints in many layers of watercolor, gouache and ink.

At the Shaker Heritage Society’s1856 Drying House, Whitney Barnes presents a mural on the exterior of the historic brick building, with stark blue and white silhouettes of herbs in bloom climbing the outside of the red brick walls. Inside, visitors can view an installation of combined media cyanotype works on fabric and a changing arrangement of hanging bunches of herbs from the garden.

Julia Whitney Barnes is an artist living in Poughkeepsie, NY who works in a variety of media from cyanotypes, watercolor, oil paintings, ceramic sculptures, murals, and site-specific installations. She has exhibited and created installations widely in the United States and internationally including the Dorksy Museum, New Paltz, NY; Ely Center of Contemporary Art, New Haven, CT; Woodstock Artists Association &Museum (WAAM), Woodstock, NY; Institute of Contemporary Art, Portland, ME; Carrie Haddad Gallery, Hudson, NY; Kenise Barnes Fine Art, Kent, CT; Garvey|Simon NY, New York, NY; Fjellerup Bund i Bund &Grund, Fjellerup, Denmark; Brookfield Place/Winter Garden, New York, NY and Arts Brookfield, Brooklyn, NY. She was awarded fellowships from New York State Council on the Arts, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, Arts Mid-Hudson, Abbey Memorial Fund for Mural Painting/National Academy of Fine Arts, and the Gowanus Public Art Initiative, among others. Julia was awarded a permanent glass commission for NYC Public Art for Public Schools/Percent for Art that is slated to be completed in 2023. Born in Newbury, VT, Julia Whitney Barnes spent two decades in Brooklyn, before moving to the Hudson Valley in 2015. She received her BFA from Parsons School of Design and her MFA from Hunter College.

You can learn more about her work at: