Poetry or Prose: Inspired by “New York Office”

August 7, 2020


Last month, the Museum’s reading group Art + Letters revisited a favorite title: In Sunlight or Shadow: Stories Inspired by the Paintings of Edward Hopper. Senior Curator of Art Margaret Lynne Ausfeld led a discussion of the book, and we invited your prose and poetry inspired by our Edward Hopper painting. He created some of the most intriguing American scenes – and we are fortunate to have an excellent example in Montgomery, New York Office painted in 1962.  Countless students and other visitors have marveled at Hopper’s rendering of the city stage and its glamorous subject holding a letter. The literary works we received inspired by New York Office include poetry, including both haiku and tanka, stories, and a feminist critique. Some detail lives richly imagined, others mirror the essence of isolation in the painting and our current circumstances, some examine ideas and ideals of beauty, both JFK and Marilyn Monroe appear, and of course, the very essence of the painting is explored. We are so grateful for the creative response.

Enjoy these words inspired by New York Office!

Willette Vaughan

It’s 5:00 pm and I’m still here.  I think I may go mad if something doesn’t change soon.  How long can I answer these incessant calls and file these ridiculous letters?  I want a life!  I want more!  I come in every day and do the same things – nothing ever changes.  I have to change – yes – I have to change things!

Tomorrow will be different.  Tomorrow I will change.  Tomorrow I will start my life.

“Yes Mr. Smitherman, I’m still here.  Of course, I’d be happy to file those letters before I leave.”


Penny Thompson

What to do with this?
A decision must be made
By the girl in blue.

A letter in hand
May contain words that trouble
The quiet of this room.

Silence must be kept
Or the office risks losing
Its Hopper-esque vibe.

Therefore, be careful.
Joy will not be welcomed here.
Let’s hope for bad news.

Clare C. Novak

On and off,
I become aware of my breath,
Of being watched,
Of this act of living as an act.
I forget my lines,
Forget why I must play this role
for others.
Another shuddering breath
behind the glass,
I go back to work.

Connie J. Morrow

Upon hearing the news of Marilyn Monroe’s tragic death in California in August of 1962, thinking back to the promise she offered artistically to the field while studying in New York….

“With great pleasure, we write to inform you of your selection as the ingenue in “The Asphalt Jungle” our upcoming movie.  Congratulations!”

Just like a life changed from the daily routine, to one of wonder and self-expression.  Thanks for memorializing the moment Mr. Hopper!  Life is good.  There is Hope, in Art….

Love, kisses and best wishes,

Marilyn Monroe

New York, a city of potential…..peopled; LA, a city of loneliness……alone.

Mary Lil Owens

To open or not?
Do I really want to know
What this letter says?

Frank Gitschier

she stands still alone
is her isolation so
different than mine

Alina Stefanescu

You are part of
the visual. A man drags
a swan by its neck
across social media.
Someone swore
long-living plants
teach us to live
& those thorned
stems offer relief
from pain.
It is the obvious
and its opposite you
are part of the imminent
violence. The mouth
that wounds is all
you remember,
the softest violence
is woman in glass,
the visual.

John Cates

Prisoners they were. Separated by black asphalt, a wall of glass, and time.  She, his angel from afar, – he the lonely waste of war. Her light, a ray cast into dark shadows of the street and deep recesses of his brain where yet reside images of the two in times past.

Marilyn Simpson

Should the mantra, “fine art for fine art’s sake,” serve as conceptual insulation against a more probative exploration into the interior lives of artists and their works?  This reductionist mantra, “fine art for fine art’s sake,” can cover-up a multitude of political, social, racist, anti-Semitic, and misogynistic behaviors by some famous artists.

From a feminist perspective, eighty year old Edward Hopper’s voyeuristic depiction in New York Office re-contextualizes mid-20th century employed, educated women into objects for male lust and desire instead of serious, accomplished New Age professionals.

New York Office is the quintessential painterly ode to lost masculine virility in older men by projecting their sexual fantasies through imaginary voyeurism onto a young unsuspecting American dream woman: bleached blond, ashen complexion, piercing blue eyes, tall and well-toned in a low-cut, shape-hugging dress. (View Office at Night, 1990)  Within such a visual narrative, the elderly Hopper’s painting underscores his fantasy wish list of fleshly encarnalize pleasures projected onto an imaginary young workplace professional.

The almost blinding light illuminating the woman in the office window, at first glance, one might speculate radiates from the noon-day sun. Yet, in Edward Hopper’s reality, it subliminally represents “inner red-hot” fantasy desires to reach out and touch her through a private letter or rendezvous phone call.  Of course, this stands in stark contrast to the lived reality with Josephine, his elderly wife/model; symbolically debased by using the adjacent office building as a metaphor for her unattractive, worn-out, and unappealing physical decline. How humiliating for her to experience this artistic voyeurism for public male consumption while simultaneously having the features of her aging body erased through painterly brush strokes.  (View Woman in the Sun, 1961; South Carolina Woman, 1955)

New York Office tells the story of the male craving for a “forever young” physicality expressed by the intensity of that bright light, an ancient metaphor for thoughts in a human head, on the object of his attraction.  This subtle message, also, conveys his attitude on male psycho-sexual imaginary conquests of women who venture outside their traditional homemaker roles.

Finally, the painting served as a metaphorical rebuke to the emerging women’s liberation movement’s demands for action in the workplace to dismantle objectification of female employees.

Sharon DeMuth

Charles met Jennifer at Coney Island during the dog days of August a year ago. She caught his eye as he stood behind her in line at Nathan’s ordering hot dogs. When she turned, hers slipped out of the bun and landed on his sneakers, kraut, mustard and all. She looked startled and apologized for the mess on his shoes. He burst out laughing, and took an admiring look at her. What a lovely woman in her two-piece swimsuit, designer sunglasses and floppy sun hat. He assured her it was not a problem, that his sneakers were old and just for the beach anyhow.

From that first encounter, their friendship grew and eventually developed into a romance. They learned about each other in detail, that they were both native New Yorkers, about her job at the publishing firm, his on Wall Street. The days, weeks and months flew by. The Holidays were magical, sharing them together. They made plans for the future.

Then it all unraveled when he learned that she had contrived their chance meeting. Over time she had asked many questions and been so curious about his job, that he felt flattered at her interest; but all the while she was playing him for insider trading tips. He finally realized their future together was bleak, and he was putting his job and lifestyle in jeopardy.

Now he stood inconspicuously in a recessed doorway across the street from her office, thinking about their time together, watching while she examined with curiosity the envelope that contained his letter. But soon, shoulders slumping, he turned and melded into the city and to a new life, unable to bear seeing her reaction to his farewell letter.

Alice Novak

Quiet city streets,
a sharply lit afternoon,
Through glass, a letter –
mysterious or mundane –
Held by a knowing beauty

Jeff Dutton

When you miss the note:
“Janet, we’re all at the lake…
hope you can make it !”

Barbara DeMichels

Ode to light and space
Illusion in a blue dress
And truth — just a guess.

Aline Sluis

golden hour, New York.
a blond sun-catcher unfolds
in planes and angles.

Tom Westmoreland

July 9, 1962
New York City, New York

Dear Mama and Daddy

I wanted you to know that I got that job I wanted at the Wall Street International Stock Exchange and Investment House. As you can tell from the photo I’ve enclosed, my office is in the heart of NYC.

As you witnessed for yourself when you helped me move up here, Manhattan is made up of canyons, one right after another, of tall buildings and cloud-reaching skyscrapers. I’ve been told by my neighbors who live in the apartments around me that when someone works in such crowded conditions, they often feel blessed if their office can have a big picture window that looks out onto the street where they can see what’s happening in the world outside.

The photo I sent you was given to me by my boss. It was taken by her young friend, Edward, who says he wants to do a painting of the building because the light that particular morning was simply exceptional  Personally, I feel extra blessed when the morning sun shines down on us because often in these city canyons, a bright sunny morning is a hard commodity to come by. My boss says Edward likes to dabble in paint, especially painting buildings that show sunlight and shadows. I think he’s got talent and I like the picture he took very much. I thought you might, also. I think Edward really lucked out the morning he snapped it.

Because windows have several purposes – such as letting sunlight in while keeping out the elements – letting those of us on the inside see ‘what’s happening in the world outside – and, letting folks on the outside see what’s going on inside, I like to dress and look my best when I go to work, so in the morning I try to select something stylish to wear that is not only attractive and comfortable, but with luck, the outfit I choose may draw the attention of those walking by so they might take a second look at me and see what I’m doing and maybe what my office is all about. . , ” . . From having been here only a month, I have learned that my office is in a part of town where a lot of people do·a lot of walking, window shopping and people watching, so what I wear is very important to me and my office boss. It makes me feel good that my boss likes my attitude. She has told me herself that she values my talents and the care I take each morning to look professional and attractive. I think I’m going to like it here. Mama and daddy, it will probably bring you comfort to know that right now, for me, I would say life is good!

Thanks again for all your support in helping me make this big move. Until later, give my love to all back home. (I’m sleepy good night.)

Your loving daughter,


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