Exploring the Ways of Water

A view of Smithsonian's traveling "Water/Ways" exhibition.

Water impacts climate, agriculture, transportation and industry as well as inspires art and music. From February 29 to April 11, it will also be the focus of “Water/Ways,” a Smithsonian traveling exhibition that is coming to the East Hampton Historical Society’s Clinton Academy. The show, which explores water’s environmental and cultural impact on our lives, opens with a celebratory reception on Saturday, February 29, from 4 to 6 p.m.

Offered in cooperation with the Museum Association of New York (MANY), the exhibition shows how humanity has used water and how water has shaped civilization. “Water/Ways” will examine water as an environmental necessity and an important cultural element as it explores its great role in New York, home to more than 7,600 bodies of fresh water. The state also borders two Great Lakes, the Long Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean.  The exhibition looks at water’s effect on migration and settlement, and the relationship between water and politics, economics and culture.

“Water/Ways” comes to East Hampton through Museum on Main Street, a branch of the Smithsonian designed to share the resources of the institution with small towns through partnerships with state humanities councils and museum associations.

“The East Hampton Historical Society is honored to be the only location on Long Island and one of only six in New York State to be selected to host ‘Water/Ways,’” said  Maria Vann, Executive Director of the East Hampton Historical Society. “Hosting this exhibition allows us to offer an important and engaging opportunity, not only to the East Hampton community, but to those across Long Island.”

Work from the East Hampton Historical Society, including mural-sized collages, created from antique photographs, will be part of the exhibition, offering visitors a picture of East Hampton’s old-time water inspired activities.

“Water has always dictated the life of the East End,” said Richard Barons, Chief Curator of the East Hampton Historical Society. “As a historical society, our contribution to the Smithsonian’s traveling exhibition will focus on water and its roles in the early to mid-20th century. Three areas for which we have excellent documentation are our famous beaches, ice making and ice fishing as well as a section on duck hunting.”

Related programming will tell the local water story of East Hampton Town and the historical society will host an array of community-based programs over the course of the six-week exhibition, all of which support, illuminate, and foster curiosity about water and its role in our lives.

“The programs that we have planned provide the East Hampton community with opportunities to engage with the various themes from the exhibition in unique ways,” said Marianne Howard, the East Hampton Historical Society’s Director of Visitor Experience.  “Not only are we providing hands-on learning opportunities for children, but we are also arranging a wide breadth of lectures for our adult population.”

Programs will include watercolor workshops for kids and adults, a series of lectures, including “What is a Waterway Anyway” by Daniel Rinn on March 12, “History of Montaukett/Shinnecock Fishing” on March 20, and a staged reading of “Salt Water People” on March 29.

Through creative partnerships, the East Hampton Historical Society has had the opportunity to collaborate with many community organizations in connection with the exhibition, including the Amagansett Fire Department, the East Hampton Library, the First Presbyterian Church of East Hampton, the Shinnecock Nation, The American Lore Theater, and local artists.

“The Smithsonian’s touring exhibition of ‘Water/Ways’ is for everyone, as water is rudimentary to life as we know it,” said Vann. “Everyone connects to water, as consumers, as advocates, in ritual connections, in historical context, and other personal ways. Our water story, is the world’s water story… one that binds us, sustains us, and inspires us.”

“Water/Ways” is on view at East Hampton Historical Society’s Clinton Academy Museum, 151 Main Street, East Hampton. The exhibition is on view Tuesdays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission is free and donations are welcome.