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R.C. Gorman: Remembering the 'Picasso of American Painters'

Shelley Gollust and Caty Weaver


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

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

We hear music by a jazz group …

Answer a question about Pepsi-Cola …

And tell about a Native American artist.

R. C. Gorman

The painter R.C. Gorman was once called “the Picasso of American Painters.” His beautiful representations of Native American women in traditional clothing made him famous. The artist died recently. Faith Lapidus tells about his life and work.

FAITH LAPIDUS: Rudolph Carl Gorman was born on Navajo tribal land in Chinle, Arizona. He was called R.C. from birth in either nineteen thirty-two or thirty-three. The artist said he was never sure exactly how old he was.

R.C.’s father, Carl Gorman, was also a painter. But he was more famous for his work as a “code talker” during World War Two. He was one of about thirty Navajo who developed a secret communication system with their native language. It permitted commanders to pass battle plans and other information by radio without knowledge by the enemy.

R.C. helped work with the family’s farm animals as a young boy in Canyon de Chelley [pronounced shay]. He said he would draw on rocks and in the dirt. He served in the United States Navy before college. Then he studied art and literature at Northern Arizona University and in Mexico. He was greatly influenced by the artists of that country, including Diego Rivera.

Gorman first became successful after some art shows in the late nineteen fifties. He was living in San Francisco, California at the time. He moved a few years later to Taos, New Mexico. He opened an art gallery there in nineteen sixty-eight. He was the first American Indian to own one.

R.C. Gorman was most famous for his pictures of Native women. His representations came from clean lines and large blocks of color. There were few details in most paintings. One of his paintings would show a moon, a mountain and a woman sitting beneath them. Or a beautiful brown face and neck behind a large bouquet of bright yellow flowers.

R.C. Gorman was not only a painter. He also was a sculptor. And he wrote books about art and cooking. He died in November in Albuquerque, New Mexico. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson called Gorman a giant in the arts. He said the painter was a great spokesman for the Navajo Nation and for artists around the world.


HOST: Our question this week comes from a listener in Burma. Ko maw gyi wants to know the history of the soft drink Pepsi-Cola.

Pepsi Cola started in a drug store in New Bern, North Carolina in eighteen ninety-six. At the time, most drug stores included a long, high, narrow table where people could gather socially. They could order sweet drinks called sodas.

Caleb Bradham was the pharmacist at the drug store in New Bern. He prepared medicines for patients. He also was well known for his special drinks. Mister Bradham wanted to make a drink that tasted good, could increase a person’s energy and help the body process food.

The pharmacist created a mixture of bubbly water, sugar, vanilla, oils and kola nuts and tried it out on the New Bern community. The drink became very popular. For a while, it was known simply as “Brad’s Drink.”

Mister Bradham re-named it Pepsi-Cola in eighteen ninety-eight. Demand for the drink grew. Drugstores in nearby towns began to order large amounts of the syrup used to make the drink. Mister Bradham realized it was time to build a whole company around the drink.

In nineteen-oh-three, the pharmacist received legal ownership of the name Pepsi-Cola from the United States government. He moved the soft drink production to a large building in New Bern. In his first year as Pepsi-Cola owner, Mister Bradham sold more than thirty thousand liters of syrup.

The former pharmacist did well in business for many years. By nineteen fifteen Pepsi-Cola was worth more than one million dollars in sales and property.

But World War One affected the soda industry. When the war ended, the price of sugar increased. Mister Bradham bought huge amounts of sugar because he thought the price would go higher. But then the price of sugar fell to almost nothing. This resulted in huge losses for the Pepsi-Cola Company. Caleb Bradham lost his company in nineteen twenty-three.

Pepsi-Cola has had several owners since that time. Today, it is part of a larger group of companies called PepsiCo. Last month, PepsiCo made history. For the first time since its creation, the value of the company’s stock was worth more than that of its main competitor, the Coca-Cola company.

The Brad Mehldau Trio

HOST: The Brad Mehldau Trio is a jazz music group. Last September, the production company Nonesuch released a collection of the group’s recordings. The collection, or album, is called “Day is Done.” The album has been popular in the United States. Pat Bodnar tells us more.

PAT BODNAR: Brad Mehldau plays piano. Larry Grenadier plays bass and Jeff Ballard plays drums. Critics say “Day is Done” is filled with music that represents changing color, emotion and meaning. Several of the pieces are “cover” songs. They are jazz versions of famous songs written and performed by other artists. These include songs by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, Burt Bacharach and the British group Radiohead.

Here is an example. Brad Mehldau plays his version of the Beatles’ song, “Martha My Dear.”


Brad Mehldau has recorded ten albums in the past ten years. He performs by himself or with the two other members of his group. He also wrote two songs for “Day is Done.” This one is called “Turtle Town.”


The Brad Mehldau Trio has performed several times in Europe during the past three months. It will also perform soon in the United States and Canada. We leave you with the group’s version of a song written by Red Evans and David Mann and first recorded in the nineteen fifties. The song is called “No Moon at All.”


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

Our show was written by Shelley Gollust and Caty Weaver, who was also 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.