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.



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.

Coming Together in Signac’s L’Orgue

Paul Signac, L’Orgue, Cover design for the composition by Gabriel Fabre on a poem by Charles Cros, 1893. Lithograph with watercolor additions, 14 1/4 x 11 in. Gift of John Rewald. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Paul Signac, L’Orgue, Cover design for the composition by Gabriel Fabre on a poem by Charles Cros, 1893. Lithograph with watercolor additions, 14 1/4 x 11 in. Gift of John Rewald. The Museum of Modern Art, New  York. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

The recent panel discussion Neo-Impressionists and Symbolists: Allies and Rivals provided me with a better sense of how artists in the exhibition used poetry and music within their work, sometimes trying to create a synergy of the senses or synesthesia. Synesthesia involves the union of sensation from multiple art forms; for example, one could hear music and see color, or see a painting that evokes music. One of the artworks discussed during the panel, L’Orgue by Paul Signac, is illustrated here. The work combines poetry, music, and visual art.

Created in 1891, the piece is a cover design for a musical composition by Gabriel Fabre—which was inspired from a poem by Charles Cros. Little is known of Fabre other than that he fraternized with the Parisian Symbolist circles, including Signac and Cros. Cros a writer, inventor, and poet, aspired  to create poetry that used evocative imagery and lyrical, rhythmic language.

Charles Saunier, a critic for the literary and art magazine La Plume, commented on Signac’s L’Orgue: “First a melancholy German ballad, a melodious rustle of wind, then the harmonies which…persist quietly sad while the voice dies down. Thus smoke from an altar candle rises blue in the abandoned cathedral. For this melody the painter Paul Signac composed a strange lithograph heightened with color; roses, stained glass, altar candles illuminating a coffin.”

I think this perfectly captures the combination and equality of the arts that Signac created in his cover design; a synesthetic experience that allows the viewer to experience poetry, music, and visual art simultaneously.

Kelley Daley, Graduate Intern for Lectures and Programs

American Acrostics: Milton Avery and John Sloan

John Sloan, Clown Making Up, 1910

John Sloan, Clown Making Up, 1910, Oil on canvas 32 1/8 x 26 in.; 81.5975 x 66.04 cm. Acquired 1919. The Phillips Collection, Washington DC.

To celebrate the last month of Made in the USA, we’ve asked Phillips staff to create acrostic poems for works in the exhibition. We’ll feature some of our favorite submissions over the next few weeks. In this post, Specialist for School, Outreach, and Family Programs Andrea Kim Taylor tries to get inside the head of a young woman writing at a desk and William Spates, Museum Assistant, gets thoughtful about one of his favorite paintings.


Milton Avery, Girl Writing
Under the influence of inspiration
She stops to empty her mind
And struggles for expression

Andrea Kim Taylor, Specialist for School, Outreach and Family Programs


Milton Avery, Shells and Fishermen, 1941. Oil on canvas, 24 x 36 1/8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Acquired 1943





John Sloan, Clown Making Up

A lifetime of stories to share

William Spates, Museum Assistant