The Workhouse

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lush, overgrown ruins

 

Nestled among the hills north of the Occoquan River, a short drive out of D.C., lies the Workhouse Arts Center.  The Workhouse occupies part of the massive and sprawling former Lorton Correctional Complex, D.C.’s prison for nearly a century.  Formerly home to Nike Hercules missiles, force-fed and beaten suffragists, and many others (including Chuck Brown and Norman Mailer), the Workhouse now consists of galleries, a theatre, the Metropolitan School of the Arts, several artist studios, a small museum, and the Art of Movement.

This past weekend, Jeff Gorrell, who has a studio at the Workhouse, gave a presentation on his artistic process.  Gorrell is a watercolorist who uses Yupo, a waterproof synthetic paper.  While waterproof paper for watercolor may sound counterintuitive, Gorrell’s process relies on evaporation and the occasional chaos caused by using liquid on a waterproof surface.   

Jeff Gorrell

Jeff Gorrell mixing colors

 

Mixing colors

Mixing colors

 

After Gorrell’s Yupo presentation, a quick trip into the Workhouse courtyard resulted in running into Glenn Cook.  Cook is a photographer with a studio at the Workhouse.  His current project is photographing dancers in nontraditional settings.  Cook was happy to give a tour of the Workhouse complex and point out some great ideas for interesting shots.

Prisoner Mural Celebrating Nelson Mandela

Prisoner Mural Celebrating Nelson Mandela

 

Guard Tower

Guard Tower

 

The abandoned buildings, many with signs warning of asbestos dangers, are quite photogenic.  A path, following the now-paved Lorton & Occoquan Railroad tracks, loops around the Workhouse complex, allowing for myriad photo opportunities along the way, including through broken windows and chain-link fences.  

 

Former Mechanical Plant

Former Mechanical Plant

 

Abandoned Cells

Workhouse Cells as viewed through a broken window

 

Many buildings remain unmaintained near the Workhouse.  Funding the transition from empty prison to art space dried up, leaving capital improvement plans unexecuted.  There are plans to turn the remaining sports stands and Occoquan Raiders field into an amphitheater, but work has yet to begin.

Occoquan Raiders dual use (football and baseball) scoreboard

Occoquan Raiders dual use (football and baseball) scoreboard

 

Abandoned Handball Court

Abandoned Handball Court

 

All images ©  Beau Finley. You can see more of his work on his flickr page.  

Beau Finley

Beau is a photographer and musician from Washington, D.C.

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