Ecosystem: WATER/WAYS: Smithsonian Exhibit Opens in Oxford


Water: Seventy-one percent of earth’s surface is covered with it. It influences what we eat, where we live, and how we work. It impacts climate, inspires art, music, and religion. It is an environmental necessity. It affects our life on the Eastern Shore. Which is why the current traveling Smithsonian Museum on Main Street (MoMS) exhibit, Water/Ways, at the St. Paul’s Church in Oxford is such a significant exhibition.

Sponsored by the Oxford Museum & Maryland Humanities, the program is designed to explore and raises awareness of water and how it influences economy, history, migration, culture, and spirituality. It also looks at the environmental impact and ways to protect dwindling supplies of this critical resource.

The concept behind MoMS is to send high-quality exhibits to small museums in towns with small populations. Places that usually wouldn’t have the opportunity to participate in a national exhibition program. The selected towns are provided with ready-to-install exhibitions containing a variety of high-quality, informative units with photographs, text panels, and touchscreen interactive kiosks featuring video and audio content. Much of the work done to coordinate, install, and present the exhibition is done by volunteers. After six weeks, the exhibit is taken down and sent to the next scheduled location. Organizations all across Maryland competed for the chance to host this traveling exhibition, and the Oxford Museum was one of only six communities awarded the unique opportunity.

“The way it’s laid out, it’s meant to be of interest to a lot of different levels of curiosity,” says Stuart Parnes, president of the Oxford Museum. “So, there are things here that if you just want to look at the big picture, you can just do that. If you want to read a lot of detail, you can do that. The whole idea of these shows is to get people to think about issues and traditions that have affected our lives forever and we just kind of overlooked them or don’t think they’re important to us.”

But the exhibit is meant to do more than just be an educational experience. With support from state humanities councils, towns have the opportunity to create their own educational programs. “The idea is that each community that takes one of these shows amplifies it with what makes sense in the local community with their local culture or their local history, and their local arts,” says Parnes.

Since the Oxford Museum was too small to contain the 650 square foot exhibit along with the local programming, the main presentation is at the St. Paul’s Church, who cleared their calendar for the 6-week show. Two ancillary Water/Ways exhibits are on display at the Museum: “Carrying On – Four Centuries on the Oxford Bellevue Ferry,” which details one of the area’s most popular tourist attractions and “A Rising Tide in the Heart of the Chesapeake Bay,” which tells the story of Smith and Holland Islands and their struggle with erosion and rising waters. We have a split venue.” says Parnes, “We decided to have them open on the same days and the same schedule so that people could walk back and forth between both locations.”

Expanding on the experience of the informative, inspiring, and eye-opening exhibitions are a series of free and open to the public programs that feature experts in their field. “We’re trying to use people who are local that maybe folks haven’t really connected to yet,” says Parnes. “So, we’re not bringing people in from Baltimore and not bringing people in from Washington. This is about our own little area.” Oxford Community Center, Oxford Town Hall, Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, and the Easton Library provided space for the educational series which began in mid-July. The remaining lineup includes:

August 7, 5:30pm: Water, Water Everywhere: Sea Level Rise on the Eastern Shore of Virginia and Maryland by the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy staff.
August 8, 6:00pm: Chesapeake Requiem: A Year with the Watermen of Vanishing Tangier with the book’s author, Earl Swift.
August 14, 5:30pm: Vibrio bacteria: Everything You Didn’t Want to Know, But Probably Should with Ava Ellett (Cooperative Oxford Lab/NOAA).
August 21, 5:30pm: Flushed with Pride (a discussion on Oxford’s new state of the art water treatment facility) by Oxford Town Manager, Cheryl Lewis
Additional information and location of programs may be found by visiting:

Water/Ways is open Friday-Monday 10:00am-4:00pm
St. Paul’s Church 225 S Morris St. and the Oxford Museum 101 S Morris St.
The exhibit runs through August 24, 2019

Val Cavalheri is a recent transplant to the Eastern Shore, having lived in Northern Virginia for the past 20 years. She’s been a writer, editor and professional photographer for various publications, including the Washington Post.

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