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Sam Gilliam: A Painter Who Always Tries Something New

Dana Demange, Katherine Gypson and Jerilyn Watson


HOST: Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC, in VOA Special English.

I'm Doug Johnson. On our show this week:

We hear some jazz music …

Report about pets still being rescued since Hurricane Katrina …

And tell about an art show in Washington, D.C.

Sam Gilliam

Today we visit a museum in Washington, D.C. to learn about an important contemporary painter named Sam Gilliam. Shirley Griffith tells us more.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: A new exhibition of Sam Gilliam’s work is at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. This show represents the many artistic developments Gilliam has made and continues to make during his many years as a painter.

Sam Gilliam began painting as part of an art movement called the Washington Color School. This group of painters began working in the nineteen sixties in Washington, D.C. They made artworks that were colorful and abstract. Abstract means that there are no recognizable objects represented in the painting. Instead, abstract artists cover their painting surfaces with non-representational forms and colors.

Sam Gilliam first became famous in the late nineteen sixties for his “draped” paintings. To make these, he spread many colors of paint onto large pieces of canvas material. But he did not stretch these canvases onto wooden forms like most painters do. Instead, he let them hang freely from the wall. These colorful pieces of flowing fabric are paintings, but they are also very theatrical sculptures.

Experts say Sam Gilliam is interesting because he has always explored new methods of painting. He does not make the same kind of art over and over just because it is popular. Instead, Gilliam works to discover new artistic possibilities.

For example, in the show at the Corcoran, you can see his “black paintings” from the nineteen seventies. To make these, he poured thick black paint onto a colorful canvas. The black paint dried in bursting layers. Through the uneven surface you can see small amounts of color. In the next room of the museum, you can see the wooden painted sculptures from yet another time in his career. What remains the same through all of these periods, however, is Gilliam’s love of color.

Sam Gilliam’s latest art is completely different from past periods. He is now making smooth paintings on wood. Each painting has only one color. But the shiny perfection of the painted surfaces is very beautiful.

Katrina Pet Rescue

HOST: The severe ocean storm called Hurricane Katrina struck three American Gulf Coast states last August. It killed at least one thousand three hundred people. Many of the people who survived lost their homes, their jobs – and their pet animals. Now, more than three months later, people are still searching for their lost pets. Faith Lapidus tells us more.

FAITH LAPIDUS: One of the worst storms in American history separated a black and white cat named Sly from his owner, Alison Wells. Miz Wells was forced to leave the cat behind when she fled her home in New Orleans, Louisiana. The hurricane also destroyed plans she made for his care while she was gone.

But this story has a happy ending. The five-year-old cat is safely back with Miz Wells in her home in New Orleans. Animal rescuers and an Internet Web site called reunited the two last month.

It was a long way home for Sly. First, people who found him in the street took him to an emergency shelter in the nearby state of Mississippi. Other rescuers later took him all the way to their shelter in New York City. That is where the reunion took place.

The New York rescuers were from the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons. They put a picture of Sly on The site is one of a number helping to connect animals with their humans.

One animal aid agency says fifteen thousand dogs, cats, horses, birds and farm animals were saved after the hurricane. But today, many pets remain unclaimed. Like Sly, rescued pets were sent to shelters and animal welfare centers all over the country. Distance makes it difficult to connect many owners with their pets.

Some organizations that saved animals are small, like the Hamptons group. Others are huge, like the Humane Society of the United States and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The Humane Society has helped organize more than one thousand two hundred reunions of people and their pets so far.


HOST: Our VOA listener question for this week comes from Gurpinar, Turkey. Suat Atan asks about the birth of jazz music in America and if the English word comes from the Arabic word jazb.

Jazz is often called the only true American music. Many different kinds of music helped to create jazz. In the eighteen eighties, African-Americans created blues music from church music and sad songs from the time of slavery. In large cities, African-Americans mixed these songs with music from other immigrants. Sounds from West African, Spanish, French and even Arabic cultures can be heard in jazz music. In this way, jazz is like American culture. Jazz brings together many ideas from around the world to make something new.

Here is American jazz artist Duke Ellington with a song influenced by Middle Eastern sounds, “Caravan.”


There are many different ideas about where the word jazz came from. Some experts think that the word jazz borrows ideas from many different languages. They think that people may have made up their own word to describe the excitement of hearing and playing a new kind of music.

Books on jazz music do not mention the Arabic word jazb. But Middle Eastern music and jazz have similar sounds. Both kinds of musicians like to make up the song as they play and create their own sounds using many different instruments. Several musicians from the Middle East have come to America to study jazz. They mix traditional jazz sounds with music from their own countries. This kind of jazz is called fusion and is one of the most popular forms of jazz in America today.

We leave you with the song “Blue Flame” by jazz fusion artist Simon (se-MONE) Shaheen.


HOST: I'm Doug Johnson. I hope you enjoyed our program.

Our show was written by Dana Demange, Katherine Gypson and Jerilyn Watson. Caty Weaver was our producer.

Send your questions about American life to Please include your full name and mailing address. Or write to American Mosaic, VOA Special English, Washington, D.C., two-zero-two-three-seven, U.S.A.

Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA’s radio magazine in Special English.