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A Colorful Exhibit Tells About Amish Traditions


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Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.

I'm Doug Johnson. This week:

We tell about a special exhibit of Amish quilts in Washington D.C.,

And answer a listener question from Russia about musician Scott Joplin.

Amish Quilt Exhibit

The Textile Museum in Washington, D.C., recently opened a show of handmade cloth bed coverings called quilts. The exhibit is called "Constructed Color: Amish Quilts." It includes thirty colorful quilts made by different groups of Amish people in the United States. Visitors can enjoy the striking artistry of these quilts as well as the extraordinary skill of the women who made them. Barbara Klein tells us more.

When you enter the exhibit, the many quilts hanging on the wall almost look like paintings by modern artists. The designs are very bold and geometric with large single color areas. But many of the quilt designs are traditional, dating back to the middle of the eighteenth century.

This is when Amish groups began coming to the United States to escape religious oppression in Europe. The first Amish settlement in America was in Lancaster County in the eastern state of Pennsylvania. The Amish also settled in other areas of North America. Amish communities are known for their strong Christian beliefs. As part of these beliefs, many Amish people reject modern technologies such as cars and electricity in order to live simpler lives, often based on farming.

The thirty quilts in this exhibit represent works from three different Amish communities: Lancaster County and Mifflin County in Pennsylvania and the Midwestern states of Ohio and Indiana.

Each settlement is known for a special style of quilt. For example, Amish quilts from Lancaster County are often made up of larger pieces of cloth in very bright colors. The exhibit has several examples of the "Center Diamond" pattern quilt. One "Center Diamond" quilt has a deep blue diamond with a green border inside a red square on a purple background. The colors are so intense it is hard to believe this quilt is about eighty years old.

Amish quilts from Midwestern states often have blue or black backgrounds with repeated designs. An example in the exhibit is the "Tumbling Blocks" quilt made of gray, red and black pieces of cloth. The pattern is so three-dimensional it almost seems to come off the wall.

These works are beautiful representations of Amish history and community. They show both the great technical skill of Amish women quilters and their ability to create traditional patterns in new and inventive ways.

Scott Joplin

Our listener question this week comes from Russia. Victor wants to know about musician and composer Scott Joplin. Our listener notes that the Special English program WORDS AND THEIR STORIES begins with Joplin's "Bethena: A Concert Waltz."

Scott Joplin is famous for writing energetic dance music that earned him the title "King of Ragtime." The irregular rhythm of this music was described as "ragged time," a term that was later shortened to "ragtime." During Joplin's lifetime ragtime was often played in clubs and drinking places. He helped turn this special kind of music into an American art form.

(MUSIC: "The Entertainer")

Scott Joplin's music may be very well known, but much about his life remains a mystery.

Experts believe he was born in eighteen sixty-seven or eighteen sixty-eight. He was born in the state of Texas, probably near the border with Arkansas. He spent part of his childhood in the town of Texarkana.

Scott Joplin's father was a freed slave who worked for the railroad. His mother cleaned people's homes. She received permission for young Scott to play the piano in one of those homes. A German-born music teacher named Julius Weiss recognized the young boy's skill and gave him free music lessons. Scott's early training was in classical music.

Experts believe Scott Joplin left home in the eighteen eighties to travel through the Midwestern United States. In his twenties, he moved to Sedalia, Missouri. There, he played with different bands. They included a dance band called the Queen City Cornet Band and a singing group called the Texas Medley Quartette. When he was not traveling to perform, Joplin worked as a piano player in social clubs and took music classes.

In eighteen ninety-nine, Scott Joplin published this song, "The Maple Leaf Rag." It soon became one of the most popular examples of ragtime music. Joplin earned money from sales of this song for the rest of his life.

In nineteen-oh-one, Joplin moved to Saint Louis, Missouri, with his wife, Belle. Here is "A Breeze from Alabama," published the next year. It is music for a dance called the two-step.

Over the next fifteen years, Scott Joplin kept writing ragtime music as well as two operas, a symphony, a musical and other works. However, many of these were never published and have been lost.

Here is "The Chrysanthemum," which Joplin wrote for the woman who would become his second wife, Freddie.

Scott Joplin died in nineteen seventeen. He left the world sixty musical pieces.

In nineteen seventy-six, the composer received a Pulitzer Prize in recognition of his important role in American music. We leave you with one of Scott Joplin's later compositions, "Magnetic Rag."

I'm Doug Johnson. I hope you enjoyed our program today.

It was written and produced by Dana Demange. For transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our programs, go to voaspecialenglish.com.

Send your questions about American life to mosaic@voanews.com. Please include your full name and where you live.

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


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