Chincoteague in Transition: Vernacular Art and Adaptation in Community Heritage

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In addition to serving aesthetic or representational purposes, art can express values related to heritage and identity politics. This dissertation discusses the ways in which the vernacular arts of hunting decoy and decorative wildfowl carving in Chincoteague, Virginia, as well as the closely related tradition of wildfowl hunting, express understandings of various forms of heritage in touristic and community exchange, representing and helping tell the story of the ways in which this locale's rural population has adapted to, resisted, and at times encouraged changes related to tourism development and environmental regulation. In the process this project considers how embodied cultural knowledge is presented through carving and closely related practices such as hunting, how environmental and community values relate to carving and carving-related traditions, and the ways in which community members negotiate identity and maintain the integrity of their communities through the production and appreciation of localized artistic expression.

Research supporting this dissertation consists primarily of systematic participant observation and key informant interviewing with hunting decoy and decorative wildfowl carvers. It was conducted over the course of nearly two years living on Chincoteague Island, developing close relationships with wildfowl carvers and others associated with this tradition, for example shop owners, arts organizations, local historians, hunters, and museum specialists.