A Sunday Poetry

Gerry Volunteer 1

Gerry Hendershot volunteering at the Phillips. Photo: Emily Bray

Gerry Hendershot is an Art Information Volunteer at The Phillips Collection. Here he shares his process and his poem inspired by Edward Hopper’s painting, Sunday.

In February I attended a three-day poetry workshop near Atlantic City, NJ. Each morning, 100 student poets gathered to receive a one-sheet prompt, then were given two hours to draft a poem; in the afternoon, groups of ten student met for moderated discussions of each poem.

On the day I wrote the below poem, the morning prompt directed us to write about something that was missing using stanzas of 2, 3, or 4 lines, and to include a piece of furniture, a spice, a proper name, and a musical instrument. We had to submit a hand-written fair copy of 30 lines by Noon.

Because of my longtime love of art, I have acquired an interest in ekphrastic poems; that is, poems about art, such as W. H. Auden’s “Musée des Beaux Arts.” I recalled a poem by Victoria Chang, “Edward Hopper Study: Hotel Room,” which led me to think of Hopper’s painting Sunday.

I had recently attended a Spotlight Talk on Sunday, where I heard other viewers comment on its unsettling psychological impact. Like other works by Hopper, it creates in me a feeling of imminent danger, of something tragically missing.

With Chang’s exemplar as guide, and Sunday in my mind’s eye (aided by online images!), it was not difficult to meet the other prompt requirements— proper name, furniture, spice, and a musical instrument. Feedback from fellow student poets led to revisions—which are continuing.

 

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Edward Hopper, Sunday, 1926. Oil on canvas, 29 x 34 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Acquired 1926

Edward Hopper, “Sunday” (1926)

By Gerry Hendershot

After church, when I view him sitting
on the curb of an old-fashioned
wood plank sidewalk,

leaning forward, resting his arms on his knees,
cigar clamped in his teeth, its tip unlit,
its cold ragged head soggy with spit,

he’s gazing into the distance, eyes unfocused and blank,
sensing—not knowing—that something,
something is missing.

***

Bright sun beats the top of his balding head,
whitening one side of his face,
leaving the other side dark.

He’s wearing his work clothes, his not-Sunday-best clothes,
the sleeves of his white shirt held up by elastic red bands;
black vest, black pants, brown shoes. A waiter, perhaps,

or a barber. But the storefronts behind him are missing
any ads for today’s blue-plate specials, and a
red and white candy striped pole.

***

Is he missing the tools of his trade?
His revolving, adjustable, strop-hung chair? His shelf
full of brushes and scents, precursors of Boss and Old Spice?

Or does he miss in that sharp angled light from above
a rainbow of hope sung by angels with lyres
through windows of medieval glass?

Sunday, what’s missing
from his life
and mine?

Gerry Hendershot is a retired CDC health statistician who has been volunteering at the Phillips for 12 years.  He is a member of the nearby Church of the Pilgrims at 22nd and P Streets, NW, and co-founder, with his wife, of its Dupont-Pilgrims Art Gallery, an alternative art space for area artists.

Teaching Real World History with Jacob Lawrence

Cosby Hunt, Manager of Teaching and Learning at Center for Inspired Teaching in Washington, DC, recently brought his Real World History class to the Phillips to explore Jacob Lawrence’s The Migration Series. Here he reflects on this experience and other memories related Jacob Lawrence.

A student asks an elder about his life while looking at The Migration Series.  Photo: Andrea Kim Taylor

A student asks an elder about his life while looking at The Migration Series. Photo: Andrea Kim Taylor

I came home the summer after my first two years of teaching and cut all my hair off. It was 1995, and I had just spent the last two years getting my butt kicked as a new teacher in rural Georgia. I had told Teach for America in 1993 that I would teach “anywhere” as long as I could teach secondary social studies, and they sent me anywhere: Sparta, Georgia. I wouldn’t trade those two years for the world; that time was the beginning of my career as an educator.

My mother took a photo of my hair just before the haircut: close on the side and dreadlocks on top lying back—probably having been just released from whatever bandanna was holding them in place. Later that day I came home from the barber with a closely shaved head, the locks I’d spent three years cultivating swept off the floor of the barber shop by the time I put my key in the ignition to return home. A week or so later my mother took me and my newly shaved head to see the artist Jacob Lawrence speak at the University of Akron. That was the last substantial thing I remember doing with her; she died soon thereafter in August 1995.

Students and elders discuss Jacob Lawrence’s The Migration Series. Photo: Andrea Kim Taylor

Students and elders discuss Jacob Lawrence’s The Migration Series. Photo: Andrea Kim Taylor

I have been teaching students and teachers in Washington, DC, the town where my mother and father raised me, since 1997. Recently I was able to reconvene with Mr. Lawrence—at least in spirit—when I took a group of high school students to The Phillips Collection to view his epic Migration Series. My students were working on oral history projects as part of our Real World History Class—an after school honors elective class in which 20 students from ten different high schools across the city are enrolled. We spent the fall reading Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration. In keeping with the ideals of the class and Center for Inspired Teaching, it was time to shift from (just) studying history to actually doing it. I paired the students with black Washingtonians who moved here from the South before 1970 and arranged for these older adults to meet us at the Phillips so that they and the students could view the series together. After students viewed the series with their interviewees, all of them sat together, discussed, and recorded what they had seen in the gallery.

It was a delight seeing the teenagers switch into respect-for-their-elders mode; watching young and old discuss artwork and history together was a treat. I’m certain that Lawrence’s work sparked some questions from the students that they wouldn’t have otherwise asked. For example, Panel no. 53 in the series features long-time African-American residents of northern cities who met the migrants with “aloofness and disdain,” which prompted one student to ask her interviewee if she had encountered similar disdain. Another student made connections between some of the brutality shown in the Lawrence’s work with the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, New York.

I can’t wait to read the oral history projects the students have just submitted, and I’m already looking forward to the time I’ll spend with Lawrence’s The Migration Series and next year’s Real World History students.

Cosby Hunt, Manager of Teaching and Learning at Center for Inspired Teaching

Hanging Man Ray’s Obstruction

Installing Obstruction_TW

Preparators install Man Ray’s Obstruction (1920/editioned replica 1964). Photos: Trish Waters

Installing Man Ray’s Obstruction, a carefully balanced mobile comprising over 60 wooden coat hangers, was no small feat for Phillips preparators. Check out these before and after shots.

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Installation view: Man Ray, Obstruction, 1920/editioned replica 1964. Assisted readymade: 63 wooden coat hangers, 43 5/16 x 47 1/4 x 47 1/4 in. The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. Gift of Beatrice (Buddy) Mayer, Chicago, to American Friends of the Israel Museum, B84.0027. © Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY / ADAGP, Paris 2015. Photo © The Israel Museum, Jerusalem by Avshalom Avital.