Exhibit reveals ghosts of Worcester’s past
By Emily Hopkins
Inside the abandoned Caravan Coffee Company building, three or four different layers of wallpaper peel off the walls. A clipboard hangs where it was last left, along with an “Everything Kosher” sign. Beautiful mahogany railings grace a dusty staircase.
It has all been demolished now, and would be forgotten but for photographer Edward Bissell, who catalogues this and other ephemera left behind by a once thriving business in his Caravan exhibit. Photos will be on display at the Worcester Center for Crafts from June 21 to July 23.
“There are all these little things going on in there. It just amazes me that someone could leave what they left in that building,” says Bissell.
Bissell began taking pictures of the Caravan building, once located at 237 Main St. in Worcester, through the front window. He was intrigued by the building, which was crumbling apart. A year later, Bissell managed to get permission from a contractor to enter the building and photograph its interior. He took pictures for the next eight months or so, until the building was demolished.
“I was just photographing something that was there for a long time, and all the little details,” says Bissell. “There’s so much going on, some of these old buildings have so much history.”
Bissell enjoys taking photographs of the things that people walk by every day. He views his subjects in Caravan not with nostalgia, but more like a documentary about what is found in an abandoned building.
“I isolate the little things just by themselves,” says Bissell, “Finding little odd things, that when you see them in a photograph, it looks funny, or it looks serious.”
The abandoned building, which once housed the Caravan Coffee Company, had been a Sears, Robuck and Co. before that.
“The history of these things is just incredible, and it is lost,” says Bissell. “For example, Sears is a huge company and there is nothing left. Not even photos.”
Bissell, like so many artists, had doubts about sharing his Caravan photos.
“I spend so much time second guessing myself, and it gets to the point where you say this is it, let it go, and you just go with your heart,” he says.
Thanks to a grant from the Worcester Arts Council, and an offer of exhibition space from the Worcester Center for Crafts, Bissell has been able to show his photos to the public at the Center’s Krikorian Gallery.
Candace Casey, director of the Krikorian Gallery, says the exhibit offers “an opportunity to view images that were taken and reproduced by one of the city’s finest photographers. Ed Bissell leads us through the debris of Caravan Coffee from his first view through the windows, up the winding stairs and through the unexpected tossed and discarded treasures that he finds.”
The Worcester Center for Crafts is itself a treasure of Worcester history. Founded in 1856, it is one of the oldest non-profit institutions for craft study in the United States. When the center first opened its aim was to help immigrant women sell hand crafted wares to support their families.
“The world has changed since the Center first opened,” says Casey. “Our focus has evolved into one that offers support for entrepreneurship in the arts, along with craft education.”
The Center’s Krikorian Gallery is New England’s largest avant-garde contemporary craft exhibition space.
“The idea of avant-garde craft is essentially work that is experimental and innovative at its core,” says Casey.
For some of his photographs in the caravan exhibit, Bissell borrowed a mannequin from a nearby store. He then dressed the mannequin in a gown worn by his wife’s grandmother and proceeded to take photos of “her” throughout the building.
“I had such a wonderful time,” says Bissell. “And when I showed the photos to a critique class, one student thought the mannequin was real.”
The opening reception for Caravan will take place on June 30 at 5 p.m.