News Details

March 13, 2017

Sleeth Gallery to Present a Joanna Barnett’s Exhibit on Mental Illness

The opening reception of "40 Days: A Portrait of Mental Illness" by Joanna Barnett with a gallery talk by Alison Bushman will be held in the Sleeth Gallery at West Virginia Wesleyan College at 6 p.m. on March 14.  The exhibition of Barnett's artwork will be held from March 14 to April 7.

In the artist's words, this project was conceived out of an exercise that was simply intended to be an emotional vent during a particularly difficult psychological period. It was a secondary consideration that it might break through the five-year block that had finally defeated any hope of continuing as an artist, the only hope I had of transcending the limits imposed by mental illness.

Barnett was born in Atlanta, GA on March 12, 1945 and grew up in Orlando, FL. Her artistic talent was evident at an early age. She attended Florida Presbyterian College (later Eckerd College) and studied Fine Arts at Ringling School of Art, also for two years. In 1969 she moved to California.

Barnett's 30-year battle with Bipolar Disorder left her isolated from many friends and family members. 

At a low point in 1985, her therapist suggested that she "just draw" what she felt. Barnett challenged herself to draw something every day for 40 days. She began with a self-portrait. As she drew and wrote commentaries for 40 portraits, she viewed the collection as a "visual portrayal" of her illness.

Years later, she submitted the group of self-portraits to The Journal, a quarterly publication of the California Alliance for the Mentally Ill. The article included the 40 portraits and 40 commentaries, as well as an introduction and afterword by Joanna (see In the Artist's Words). The cover of a subsequent issue of the magazine featured Joanna's "Woman with a Fish bird," her self-portrait for Day 33.

Joanna died on August 8, 1994 from a combination of causes, but primarily malnutrition and pneumonia. Concerned about keeping the collection intact, her aunt Joyce recovered Joanna's work after her death. Joyce's grandniece, Alison Bushman, now maintains the Joanna Barnett collection.

For more information about the reception, please email

The gallery is open Mondays and Wednesdays, 2:30 - 5:00pm, Tuesdays and Thursdays, 11:00am - 1:00pm, or by appointment. The Sleeth Gallery is located on the first floor of McCuskey Hall at West Virginia Wesleyan College, at the intersection of East Main Street and College Avenue in Buckhannon, WV.

This event is sponsored by Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology.



« Back to News

West Virginia
Wesleyan College

59 College Avenue
Buckhannon, WV 26201
(304) 473-8000

Contact Us


Support WVWC

Current Students


I want more information

Get in touch >