143 Columbus, OH: Morning Sun

The Hopper here hung in the Columbus Museum of Art, just outside of downtown's main district, near an anonymous exit off the thruway and across from a repossessed chain store converted into a Greek diner.
Morning Sun shows a woman in a slip, alone, hugging her knees on a bed as morning sunlight blasts her like a fire hose. The bed takes up the whole room. Her expression is blank as she stares out at factories. Her gaze is the focal point of the painting, right where the wall becomes light behind her dark hair. She presents a bright face to the world, but a hidden part of her harbors a dark and mysterious other.

Jo described the painting as, "girl sitting up on bed looking out big window over red brick roofs." The preparatory drawings show how Hopper's vision evolved. Early on, a female figure with long hair leans close to a window. Later, the hair is drawn back into a bun, and the figure sits on the bed farther from the window. The room becomes sparser with each draft. Hopper had a blanket in the preparatory sketches, but even that suggestion of warmth is denied the woman in the final composition.

Morning Sun is the most requested American painting from the collection. Someone sent to the museum a photograph of a reproduction of it, with a note that said, "Can you believe that this print was hanging in the new Senior Center for The Jewish elderly in Kiev?" One person who visited when the painting was not on exhibit complained, "The Columbus Museum of Art in Ohio has only one Hopper, and when people go they know that this particular Morning Sunlight [sic] is in the collection, and of course if it isn't there they're very disappointed." Even New York's Whitney museum acknowledged the value of Columbus's Hopper painting by saying their Hopper retrospective would be "inconceivable without Morning Sun." The curator sees this not being loaned out as a shame. She told the Columbus Dispatch in 1995, "Some of our pictures have seen more of the world than I have."

I asked my question of two older women who entered the gallery together. "I can't imagine Columbus being that isolated," the one who was more conservatively dressed and coiffed (let's call her "Priscilla") answered first. "Everybody is busy working and doing a lot. Thing is, though, I don't know. I guess I experience a busyness to my life where maybe some people just don't. I've heard that about cities like New York for example."

Her tanned friend ("Audrey") said, "I think everything here is kind of that way."

"But you're just visiting," Priscilla objected.

"I lived here," Audrey protested. "I lived here up to the fourth grade. We came up here for a bigger city, more schools, more jobs, more money in Ohio. More to offer. But, in the north, it's cold and you get shut inside because of the weather."

"Where do you live now?" I asked.

"Miami, Florida. Thus, the conflict. There is less wintertime isolation there. People are going to live there more and more. But the cities are just suburban sprawl. People don't trust the city. So it becomes more and more isolated."

Priscilla broke in, "I guess I'm not understanding what you mean by isolation. There are people all around me, and yet there's no personal relationships? Is that what you mean?"

"Isolated like feeling no one understands," Audrey said impatiently. "Or there's no connection. I guess. I'm not the one writing the paper."

"No, no," I insisted. "It is your paper. I want to know what you think."

"In that case," she continued, "I think we are more isolated the more people become dependent on having your own car, the more we become dependent on the Internet and focused on the Web. We can do everything online, especially with television and telephone systems. Or listening to NPR on the way home without talking to anybody. They call it increased communication, but it's not with people. You don't really connect with people anymore. Like you use ATMs instead of talking to the bank teller. And the children watch TV all day. They aren't interacting with the people that they're surrounded with in the same room. So we end up with people like her," she pointed to the painting. "In settings like hers. A window with no curtains. There's no posters. Nothing warm. No mirror. The only real light or warmth is the sun coming in. And obviously she's taking advantage of that. Trying to soak up as much as she can. But I don't find the sun in this painting comforting," she concluded with a shrug. "You have to find comfort where you can."

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