STEPHENVILLE — Tarleton State University’s Department of Fine Arts presents “Going Away From Here,” a photography exhibit by H. Jennings Sheffield.
The show opens Sept. 13 and runs through Oct. 10 at the Clyde H. Wells Gallery of Art in Stephenville.
Over the last three years, Sheffield has spent time photographing and studying Tangier Island in Chesapeake Bay, off the Virginia coast. Tangier Island is the home of about 475 people — mainly crabbers, or families of crabbers, who speak a distinct dialect virtually untouched by outside influence since the island was inhabited nearly 250 years ago.
Due to a combination of climate-accelerated sea-level rise and erosion, the island is quickly disappearing into the water and is projected to be uninhabitable within 50 years if nothing is done.
“When the residents are forced to evacuate, they will spread out over Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina,” Sheffield said. “We will lose an entire culture of people as unique as their dialect, and although they will still exist, the land they have called home for hundreds of years will not. This once untouched and proud crabbing community is predicted to be one of America’s first ‘climate change refugees.’ ”
According to Sheffield, the deeply religious inhabitants of the island have already been split by the bay’s waters, which now seeps up through the ground. Simple tasks like docking a boat are becoming more and more difficult. Fishermen have been forced to tie their boats to poles to prevent them from floating away at high tide.
Additionally, plants, trees and protective grasses for wildlife are washing away as well.
Cemeteries are overcrowded and tombstones and bodies are now being placed on the front lawns of loved ones’ homes further inland.
“I believe these photographs are an excellent route to shed light upon this concern of ongoing land loss and impending climate refugees as there is more at stake than just land when losing a place,” Sheffield said. “It also means the destruction of a community, and all the things that make a community unique.”
Born in Richmond, Va., Sheffield is a contemporary artist working in lens-based media, video and sound. She is currently an Associate Professor of Art at Baylor University. Her photographs and work are in several collections throughout the United States and have been showcased internationally, with her latest work exhibiting at The Print Center in Philadelphia, Houston Fine Art Fair, Colorado Photographic Arts Center, Lens Culture, Living Arts of Tulsa and Cambridge University in England.
The exhibition is free and open to students, staff and faculty only due to covid-19 restrictions. Sheffield will participate in a virtual lecture to be announced at a later date.