A crossing point for ideas, words, images, and energies

Todd B. Gruel


Because memory is a fickle thing, I’m a bit uncertain about the five Ws of journalism here.  Fortunately, I’m not under oath.  But if I had to guess, I was in Elementary school (perhaps 3rd grade?) when I found it.  While walking home after school one day, I noticed some litter mingled with withered weeds along the sidewalk.  Most of the trash was standard faire – broken bottles, plastic bags, candy wrappers; however, upon scanning the hillside, I spotted it, a strange-looking can lying in a bed of shattered glass.


The first thing I noticed about this can was the cursive lettering (in a language that wasn’t English) on its side.  Whatever this mystery beverage was (I realized later that it was barley tea), it wasn’t made in the United States.  I was instantly captivated by the visual beauty of this foreign language (which turned out to be Japanese); it reminded me of my mother’s calligraphy.  But beyond that, what fascinated me about this can was the artfulness of its design.  Even as a kid, I had an aesthetic appreciation for the arts.  Although I was unformed, I still had some innate feeling for things like beauty, rhythm, and color theory.  And this can of tea moved me.


The entire design of the label has continued to intrigue to me throughout the years.  Firstly, the layout is based upon the rule of thirds.  In visual arts, the rule of thirds is a basic composition principle in which an image is divided into thirds (both horizontally and vertically) so that you have 9 parts.  The idea is to place your subject of interest on one of the center intersecting points.  In the case of the can, the top two thirds are colored a cool gray while the bottom third is a mellow white.  The proportion are classically symmetrical.  Secondly, the colors of the bottom character (which I believe describe the name of the tea) are dynamic.  I’ve never seen a similar pastel palette used for any American products.  The bottom character is a combination of three colors: tangerine orange on one side, topaz blue in the center, and turquoise green on the other side.  These fresh pastel colors are juxtaposed with the stark black used for the rest of the lettering which is set against the gray and white base of the can’s body.  It’s a fresh and clean aesthetic.


So no matter where I’ve lived throughout the years, I’ve found room for this can of barley tea on a bookshelf, mantel, or window sill.  There’s just something about this can’s combination of classical symmetry and peculiar color composition that is wholly unique.  I’d like to think that this can’s design has even inspired my own creative projects.  If so, there may be traces of its aesthetic in my photography, music, and writing.  Regardless, I strive for a similar ideal: mixing a discreet minimalism with lively, surprising elaborations.  Whether lived on or off the page, life — like art — can be beautiful if you allow it to be.  I have a can of barley tea to thank for that.





John Ferry

When I was in 3rd and 4th grades my closest friend at the time was Tim Ellison. Although my grandfather was a cardinal’s fan, Tim got to me first. I thus became a Die-Hard Cubs fan and even started collecting baseball cards. Now, Ernie Banks was really before my time. I grew up with Buckner, Kingman, Durham, Sandberg, and later Grace, Dunston and Dawson. In my early days of collecting cards I knew the importance of “Mr. Cub”, and the value of investing in the great players of the past that represented my franchise. Every year the Hickory Point Mall in Forsyth, IL would have an annual baseball card show. I would take my allowance and purchase valuable cards from grown men who made a living by taking money from children for cardboard pictures. I remember my 4th grade year I had exactly $5.00, and an Ernie Banks card from the traveling salesman with his volumes of sleeved cards was $5.00. I slept on this purchase knowing I was going to the mall the next evening to buy shoes for my cousin’s high school graduation party. The salesman who sold us the shoes turned out to be a friend of my cousin’s and said he would be at the same party. The shoes came first, then, I could go buy my card. I’m sure all I could talk about was buying the card. Then he said the sweetest words my ten-year-old ears ever heard up to that point in my life. He said he used to collect cards and he was sure he had a bunch of Bank’s cards and he’d bring me one from his collection.  I was so excited to get to the party and get my hands on that free card . . . I was a pretty spoiled/self-absorbed kid, and I am not proud of the way I always thought about situations growing up. He showed up, but he was empty handed. He said he only had one and wanted to keep it. I was crushed, and I know my face didn’t hide it well or even at all. Not only was I not going to get a free card and keep my $5.00, the show had passed and I couldn’t go back and buy the original card. Well, things always seem to work out for me despite my selfish ways. That young man left, came back, and threw the card on the table and said, “here you go kid”, and left again. I snapped up that card, ran to my dad with enthusiasm and told him what had just happened. I’m sure that my parents had to console my disappointment from the earlier moment because, my dad sprinted out the door and grabbed the young man and forced $5.00 on him. My dad was a sap for people who did selfless acts of kindness, and always wanted to make things right, or as close to “even” as possible, or a little better than “even”. The young man really didn’t want the money. My dad made him take it he didn’t have a choice. So what does Ernie Banks symbolize for me . . . Two things: 1. I will always save that card, not because it’s an Ernie Bank’s original baseball card, but because it symbolizes a generous act from a stranger – a young man giving up something he wanted for another he didn’t know. And 2. My appreciation for having a father (who grew up without his father’s presence in his life) who even though would always say, “the world is unfair”, would always try to make it fair. The world is unfair, “Why do I get a loving father and a Bank’s card?” Here is a picture of the Bank’s card.




John Ferry

I’ve heard it said “a good craftsman never blames his tools.”


My grandfather, my mom’s dad, was an amazing craftsman. As a child he would build me go-karts, and my sister Sally picnic benches for her Barbie dolls. He even built us a clubhouse and transported it 100 miles from Edwardsville, IL to Decatur, and reassembled it with precise measurements to create a perfect fit. Professional would be an understatement when describing his ability. My grandfather grew up on a farm, and although not a farmer as an adult, he obviously learned and practiced incredible craftsmanship. No doubt having to jerry-rig and repair many different sorts of equipment, furniture and home et al. I’m sure he learned much from his father, but he possessed a true talent with his skill. His technical ability along with his creativity and joy for working with his hands is something I admired greatly as a child, and even more as an adult. Although I am a painter and a craftsman in my own right, I didn’t inherit a natural ability to possess an infallible technique when it comes to building or repairing.


My grandfather died when I was a junior in Collage at Kansas City Art Institute.  I can remember the early morning phone call my mom received. I was home for Christmas break and although I couldn’t hear the conversation, I knew what had just happened. For the previous three years of his life my Grandpa had been in assisted living. When he entered he quickly went downhill. When a skilled man is no longer able to practice his craft what more does he have to live for? I never got to learn from my Grandpa during my adult years. His skill was never passed down. And although I may not possess the same raw talent, I know I would have enjoyed working and learning from him as a man.


As a child I used to go down to my Grandpa’s basement workshop and hammer, saw, drill and glue various sculptures. I would try to mimic grandpa’s toys he built for my sister. What my skills lacked in durability and form, they made up for in spirit. I can still hear Grandpa’s distinct laugh and see the pride in his eyes when I’d show him my most recent accomplishment, while my grandmother would worry and need reassurance that I wouldn’t hurt myself.


Grandpa’s tools were worn in a way that a master craftsman wears down his tools. They were tended to with care and respect. Organization, safety, preparation and cleanliness were also key. His tools were always put back in their proper place, either on the hole punched masonite and hooked wall, the hangers for electric jig saws and drills, or the tool box for screwdrivers, wrenches, hammers and some tools I can’t recognize even today, but they look important and have equal ware. He had cases for assorted nails, screws, bits, washers and every possible type of fastener you can think of. His organization is one thing I can say I took away from him. I have a similar setup for my paints, brushes, palettes, thinners, rags and various utensils. Organized and ready for a moments notice should I find the opportunity to paint. You must be ready . . . unpacking and taking an extra 15 minutes to set up can mean the difference from time well spent and time wasted.


My grandfather’s toolbox with a few leftover carefully chosen tools is one of my most prized possessions. At the risk of sounding corny and contrived, nowadays when I open Grandpa’s toolbox, the smell of his basement is still very potent, it does take me back to one of the greatest experiences of my childhood. Making a beeline to his workbench, exercising my creative endeavors, trying to impress my Grandfather with my skills as a craftsman. Today it seems sacrilegious for me to use his tools for anything other than subject matter for a few still life paintings. Sure, I’ll use his hammer to hang a painting, or a pair of pliers to open a paint-encrusted cap, but the real purpose these days is for me to honor my grandfather through one of my paintings of his tools.


Attached is a photograph of one of my Grandpa’s tools with a photograph of a painting of the same tool.


Nicole Campbell


This is a little jar, ceramic I believe, with a lid that sits gently on top. It has sat on my desk for several years, quietly in the corner. I picked up this jar from my Grandfather’s house after he committed suicide.


It says private on the front, and yet there was nothing inside the jar when I found it. It reminds me of the private struggle I and my grandfather both have struggled with. It sits there in quiet peace, unwavering, holding little trinkets, reminding me to not keep my struggles private, but to share them so I don’t end up with the same fate.


Nicole Campbell is a mother and step-mother to three rambunctious boys.

Meagan Ciesla



This is a marble with the world map painted on it.


I used to work at a performing arts center in Boston doing development work. One of the trustees collected and sold marbles. He would carry them around in his pockets and hand them out on occasion. I got this one during a fundraising event I was working.


I keep this on my nightstand. I like how precise the design is on such a small object and the way it looks when held up to the light. The marble’s green and the continents are painted blue, which really turns the traditional map color scheme on its head.


Meagan Ciesla is a fiction writer and PhD candidate at University of Missouri.

Christina Ingoglia

These two screen prints were made by my friend, Dan Knapp, who lives in Philadelphia. He specializes in making gigposters for bands. These were not intentionally linked works(on his part), but he gave them to me at the same time. I have always been a fan of his work, and on one of his visits to my Brooklyn apartment, maybe four years ago, he brought these with him. Shortly thereafter I had them framed.
The prints hang on the wall across from my bed; they are usually the first things I see in the morning, and the last things I notice at night. If I’m consciously thinking about it these prints matter to me because I associate them with a talented friend and they please me aesthetically. However, on a daily basis my eyes rest upon them and I can’t quite figure them out. I enjoy thinking there is a clear story in each of them one day, and then on another day, being slightly bemused by their meanings. The prints reflect my own states of mind (poor things).


Christina Ingoglia teaches creative writing and composition at Columbia College in Columbia, MO.

April Marie Mai

my grandma used to crochet a lot of doilies. now she has really bad arthritis, and the small threads are just too small for her to work with. she created a lot of doilies for my sister and i over the years, so that we could each have our own set. we are her only grandchildren. these three doilies are just a few of the many i have. i have them on my dresser, and in other places, with my little plates and dishes i’ve collected set on them, which hold my rocks and little nature treasures. she gave us these doilies at a point when she went through everything they owned, i think it was when they moved. she had some stuff stashed for each of us, originally intended for when we got married. some of her old china, and odds and ends. of course in this day and age we don’t get married as early as when she was younger, and we are both in our later 20s and not married yet. so she gave the items to us. they’re important to me because they’re handmade by my grandma. i’ve lost 2 and a half sets of grandparents (i had some “adoptive” ones), and i have only one left. i love handmade items, and everything she has handmade for me is special to me.



april marie mai is an artist focused on nature and the connections between people.

John Ferry






This is my dad’s sharp-shooter medal from the Army (Dr. Richard E. Ferry).  I found it in a drawer as a child (probably snooping). . . My dad let me keep it. I think I felt like Jim Finch must have felt when Atticus shot the dog w/rabies in To Kill a Mockingbird. . . I had no idea my dad was a sharp shooter.


John Ferry teaches Illustration at Kansas City Art Institute.

F. J. Craveiro de Carvalho

I have been interested in  “fine art photography” throughout my life. Names like Cartier-Bresson, Arbus, Lisette Model or the portuguese Daniel Blaufuks or Paulo Nozolino are quite familiar. At some point I even thought of collecting, wrongly assuming that it would be much cheaper than painting or drawing.

As most people, I have had small cameras, nothing expensive or fancy. I have used them without any especial  artistic purpose in mind. Mainly, I took portraits of mathematicians and, not that long ago, I also became interested in Maths related objects we find in everyday life. Odd, unexpected things provide another focus for my attention.

A few days back, on my way to have lunch at the campus of the University of Coimbra, I met this “angel”. I do not believe in angels, though the idea of a guardian angel may have some appeal. That is the reason why, this December,  I may send out  this “angel” as a Christmas message to my friends. To add anything but a few words would darken the simplicity I would like to preserve.



F. J. Craveiro de Carvalho is a professor of mathematics at the Universidade de Coimbra in Portugal.

JoAnne Growney

This object is a carving of an elephant, brought to me by an aunt from one of her trips abroad.


The objects that matter most to me are those that have stories. Although it was a travel souvenir from an important aunt, I don’t know where the carving was made.  Its story starts with her instruction for its use: place the elephant facing the door and it will trumpet in good luck.  The carving has been with me since I was 14 or 15 years old.  Aligning it carefully, turned toward a door, has come to be a way of collecting and centering myself.  It is my arrow through chaos and my commitment to future good luck.


JoAnne Growney’s most recent project is a blog (“Intersections – Poetry with Mathematics”); she does not sit still easily and she needs to understand everything.