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AMERICAN MOSAIC - Golden Orb Spiders Help Produce a Work of Art

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HOST:

Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.

(MUSIC)

I'm Doug Johnson. This week on our program:

We play music by the jazz-influenced singer Melody Gardot ...

And, answer a question about New York City's Central Park.

But first, a report about a new exhibit brought to you by spiders.

(MUSIC)

HOST:

Silk is a smooth, shiny and costly natural material. People usually get their silk supply from worms. But spiders make silk, too. In fact, their silk is even lighter and softer than silk from silkworms. But getting silk from a spider might seem more difficult. Especially from a big spider that can bite. Recently, two men in Madagascar proved it can be done with extraordinary results. Mario Ritter has more.

MARIO RITTER:

The American Museum of Natural History in New York City has a most unusual object on exhibit. It is a beautiful wall covering made of shiny, bright golden silk. The tapestry is about three meters long and one meter wide. It is light as a feather but strong as steel. The tapestry was woven with silk provided by the golden orb spider.

The spider tapestry
The spider tapestry

It took more than a million of them to produce that much silk. Simon Peers is a British art historian and expert in woven materials. He moved to Madagascar about twenty years ago. He started a textile business in that island nation in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Africa. Nicholas Godley is an American clothing designer. He also had a business in Madagascar making purses.

Both were interested in the idea of making a textile piece from silk of the golden orb spider. These spiders are native to Madagascar as well as many other places. The females make huge webs, sometimes large enough to hang between trees on either side of a rural road. The webs have an intense golden color. The female spiders have a bright yellow splash of color on their bodies and can grow as large as a human hand.

Mister Peers had researched stories of spider silk being used by human weavers. Together he and Mister Godley paid local people to gather about three thousand female spiders daily. They placed twenty-four spiders at a time in a holding device. Each spider produced a line of silk about three hundred fifty meters long. Then, the creatures were released back into the wild.

The tapestry was finished after about four years of gathering the silk and weaving it together. The piece has a traditional Malagasy design woven into it.

Mister Godley and Mister Peers hope the tapestry will help protect the golden orb spider and bring attention to the needy country of Madagascar.

(MUSIC)

HOST:

Our question this week is about New York City. Djamel wants to know about Central Park. This outdoor area is more than three hundred and forty hectares. It was the first public park built in the United States.

Belvedere Castle
Belvedere Castle

In eighteen fifty-eight a design competition was held to find the best idea for planning this huge area in the center of New York City. The winners were two landscape designers, American Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux from Britain.

It was not easy to create this park. It may look like a natural environment of lakes and woodlands, but it was entirely built by human labor.

Workers moved millions of cubic meters of stone and earth to clear the area. They brought in more than fourteen thousand cubic meters of fertile soil from New Jersey to make it possible to grow trees and other plants.

It took fifteen years to complete the project. Central Park was a huge success and helped create a movement across the United States for creating public gardens.

Today, the park is managed by the Central Park Conservancy under an agreement with the city of New York. The Conservancy raises about eighty-five percent of the park's twenty-seven million dollar yearly budget.

Here are a few facts that help show just how big – and busy – Central Park is. It contains seven kilometers of paths for horseback riding and about ninety-three kilometers of walking paths. When you get tired from all that walking, there are more than nine thousand benches where you can sit down.

There are twenty-one playgrounds for children as well as areas to play basketball, baseball, football and even chess. There is also a zoo. And, every summer, visitors can watch plays by William Shakespeare in an outdoor theater. About twenty-five million people visit Central Park each year to enjoy its many sights and activities.

The park is also important for natural life. It contains more than twenty-six thousand trees. And hundreds of kinds of birds have been sighted in the park which serves as a stopping area for birds as they fly to other places.

This week, Central Park has been a good place to get into the spirit of Halloween. On Tuesday, there was a large party called the Halloween Ball. People attending the event wore wild clothing and took part in a competition for best costume. On Friday, brave children can visit the nineteenth century Belvedere Castle. Park organizers turned the building into a frightening place where families could enjoy both tricks and treats.

(MUSIC)

HOST:

Melody Gardot did not always plan to be a singer and songwriter. She had learned to play the piano as a child. In college, she took classes in art and clothing design. But a severe car accident in two thousand three changed her life. During almost a year of recovery, Gardot turned to music to help her heal both mentally and physically. Critics are praising her expressive voice and songs influenced by jazz and blues music. Barbara Klein has more.

(MUSIC)

BARBARA KLEIN:

That was the song "Some Lessons" from Melody Gardot's first full length album, "Worrisome Heart." It tells about her accident and how it taught her a very difficult lesson about life and chance. When Gardot was nineteen, a large car ran into her while she was riding her bicycle in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Melody Gardot
Melody Gardot

She suffered broken bones and severe head injuries which continue to affect her hearing, sight, and memory. While she was recovering, her doctor suggested musical therapy as a way to heal her brain.

She knew she could no longer sit at the piano without pain. So she learned to play the guitar in bed. And she began writing songs about her experience.

Melody Gardot later produced a short record with some of her songs. They became popular and soon record companies became interested in her music.

Here is the song "Baby I'm a Fool" from her second album, "My One and Only Thrill."

(MUSIC)

Melody Gardot says after her accident, she could only listen to soft and quiet music such as bossa nova.

She says she does not approve of the word "disabled" to describe her condition. She says she simply can do some things and cannot do others. And she says her near death experience has made her realize what really matters in life.

(MUSIC: "If the Stars Were Mine")

HOST:

I'm Doug Johnson. Our program was written by Caty Weaver and Dana Demange who was also the producer.

For transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our programs, go to www.unsv.com. You can also comment on our programs.

Do you have a question about people, places or things in America? Send it to mosaic@voanews.com and we may answer it on this show.

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

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