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Making Art Out of Common Materials: The Boxes of Joseph Cornell


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Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC, in VOA Special English.

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

We answer a question about the Everglades …

Play some music nominated for an Academy Award …

And report about an artist who builds boxes.

Joseph Cornell

Have you ever heard of art in a box? Joseph Cornell was an important artist best known for his beautifully constructed boxes. A large collection of his interesting artwork was shown recently at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.  Faith Lapidus tells us more.

You could say that Joseph Cornell became an artist because of his love of collecting. Cornell used to spend his free time exploring the street life of New York City in the nineteen twenties. He soon started collecting old books, prints, postcards and even three-dimensional objects that he found in stores that sold used books.

Cornell also attended many museum shows, gallery openings and dance performances. He was influenced by a group of artists called the Surrealists who combined images in unusual and often strange ways.

Joseph Cornell started making his own works by cutting out different pictures and putting them together in creative and magical combinations. Soon, he started making boxes inside of which were carefully arranged pictures and objects. He worked on his art at night after finishing his day job. Later, when his boxes and images started selling and receiving public recognition, he worked on his art full time.

Joseph Cornell died in nineteen seventy-two.The Smithsonian exhibit showed almost two hundred works made during his forty-year career. One work is called "Soap Bubble Set." A box with a glass window shows a map of the moon, several pictures of sea creatures, two glass cups and two white pipes for smoking. In another box, Cornell combines an image of a cockatoo bird with a music box and watch faces.

Joseph Cornell once said his art was based on everyday experiences. He said that with his art he showed "the beauty of the commonplace." Visitors who came to this special exhibit found magic in regular objects - and even saw beauty in a box.

The Everglades

Our listener question this week comes from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Nguyen Thanh Duc wants to know about the Everglades National Park in the southern state of Florida.

The Everglades National Park is the third largest national park in the mainland United States. President Harry S. Truman officially established the national park in nineteen forty-seven. He placed almost two hundred thousand hectares of land in the area under federal control.

The parkland has since been expanded several times. The United States now protects more than six hundred thousand hectares of the Everglades. This is only about twenty percent of the Everglades ecosystem.

The Everglades was the first national park established to protect only biological resources. The wetlands are famous around the world for their diversity of wildlife. The United Nations has called the area "a world biological treasure."

The Everglades is really a slow-moving, extremely shallow river that flows south to the ocean. It is filled with sharp, thin sawgrass. This is why the Everglades is sometimes called the River of Grass. The area was also once called  the "liquid heart" of Florida.

Forests of palm, cypress, mangrove and pine are also a part of the Everglades. It is home to beautiful plants and sweet-smelling flowers. These include several kinds of the highly prized and rare flower, the orchid.

Many kinds of animals live in the Everglades. Many colorful birds and butterflies live there. So do snakes, frogs, foxes and even big cats, called Florida panthers. But the alligators and crocodiles are probably the animals most identified with the Everglades. No other place in the world is home to both.

However,  the Everglades is one of the most endangered national parks in the United States. Human activities and development around the edges of the park threaten the area's health and future. Many of the animals are in danger of disappearing.

More than one million people visit the Everglades National Park each year. The park will celebrate its sixtieth anniversary next December.

Oscar Nominated Songs

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will present its seventy-ninth yearly Academy Awards on Sunday. These awards are known as the Oscars. They honor writers, directors, actors and others who helped create the best motion pictures last year. They also honor songs written for those movies. Barbara Klein has more.

One of the five nominated songs was written by Randy Newman for the animated movie "Cars." It is called "Our Town," and is performed by James Taylor.

A second nominated song was written by Melissa Etheridge. It is called "I Need To Wake Up." It is from the documentary about global warming called "An Inconvenient Truth."

The final three nominated songs all were written by Henry Krieger for the musical movie "Dreamgirls." The movie is about a group of female singers who become famous during the nineteen sixties. One of the songs is called "Listen."  Beyonce sings it in "Dreamgirls." This song is called "Patience." Eddie Murphy sings it in the movie.

We leave you now with the third song nominated from the movie "Dreamgirls." Jennifer Hudson sings "Love You I Do."

I'm Doug Johnson. I hope you enjoyed our program today. It was written by Dana Demange, Nancy Steinbach and Caty Weaver, who was also our producer. To read the text of this program and download audio, go to our Web site, voaspecialenglish.com.

Send your questions about American life to mosaic@voanews.com. Please include your full name and mailing address. Or write to AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA Special English, Washington, D.C., 20237, U.S.A.

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

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Correction: An earlier version of this page provided incomplete title information for the Joseph Cornell work pictured.


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