Monday, March 29, 2010

Worcester Icons as Art?

Last weekend was the annual Arts Festival in my hometown of Grafton MA. Usually I submit paintings, but this year I decided to submit three entries in the category of “embellished digital photos” -- three photos I’ve taken recently of iconic buildings in Worcester, MA.

The first one shows the condemned clock tower building on the grounds of the Worcester State Hospital complex. This spooky-looking Victorian gothic edifice is all that’s left of the buildings that were the Worcester State Lunatic Hospital built around 1877.

This building is the setting for the opening scenes of Ed Doctorow’s novel “The Book of Daniel” about the Rosenberg children. It was heavily damaged by a fire in 1992 and has been boarded up ever since. Martin Scorsese wanted to use this building when he was making the film “Shutter Island” but he was turned down for reasons I can’t remember right now. It would have brought several million dollars to the city of Worcester.

Preservation Worcester has been fighting for years to keep this building from being demolished, and so far it’s still standing. The clock in the tower is actually red but I heightened the intensity of the color to symbolize that time is running out for this historic buildlng.

People who worked there on the medical staff have told me there are dungeon- like rooms and grim bathing facilities in the basement. I’ve heard that the place is haunted—and if any building has ghosts, I would imagine this one does.

Union Station—shown in the second photo above – was built in 1911 and was the heart of the city during its industrial heyday when immigrants were arriving by the thousands in the city to work in its factories. Eventually it fell into disrepair, the two towers of the building were removed for fear they’d be blown over, and the building was abandoned in 1975.

The building was completely renovated by the Worcester Redevelopment Authority at a cost of $32 million and re-opened in 2000. Since then there have been problems with parking, not many trains (but there will be more soon) and restaurants opening in the building have struggled, but it’s still a great place to soak up the grandiose retro décor and to have big events. I took this photo when my sketching class from the Worcester Art Museum was there at night to sketch passers-by but we pretty much ended up drawing each other.

The third photo shows Worcester’s iconic Coney Island Hot Dogs. Everyone knows and loves the Coney Island sign which drips mustard (when it’s lighted and working right.) The place is art deco heaven and I’ve seen it photographed in national ad campaigns.

Last weekend, when I was in New York at the prestigious AIPAD photo show at the Park Avenue Armory, I saw photographs of Coney Island Hot Dogs selling for $2,500. They were taken by John Woolf , a photographer from Boston who, I was told, likes to stroll around various cities at night and take time-exposure shots on the deserted streets with his camera on a tripod. Naturally he picked Coney Island Hot Dogs for the same reason I did—it’s irresistible.

My “embellished photographs” of these three Worcester icons did not win any prizes at the Grafton Art Festival, but they did inspire an urge to photograph (and embellish) more of Worcester’s great architecture. (The city is a virtual time capsule of architectural styles – especially the famous three-deckers that were built to house the factory workers.)

My next project is going to be the diners, which were manufactured in Worcester and still survive throughout New England.


V Fish said...

I think it's soooo silly that the city told Martin Scorsese that the building "would be under restoration/construction during allotted filming schedule"

Did that happen? NO

They didn't do ANY work on it, and now the film is completed and in theaters! What a waste - it would have been so awesome to have that income for the city :(

Anonymous said...

It's great!!.............................................

Anonymous said...

Great building; great photo. It also inspired Worcester author Jack O'Connell in creating the fictitious Peck Clinic for THE RESURRECTIONIST (a great read).

by Joan Gage said...

Laurel, thanks for the info about the Resurrectionist. I just saw it and I love all and any new information about the Clock Tower.