The Crystal Clear Pond

By Pamela Joy Trow
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The Crystal Clear Pond
The Unseen World of Water Pollution
The Inspiration

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Pinellas Recovers/NEA grant project update

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I grew up in Brooklyn and spent my late teens in South Florida. There, I had a friend whose father was a sales rep for Carl Zeiss Optics, the leading manufacturer of electron microscopes at the time. My friend’s father, knowing I was an artist, would give me his company’s promotional calendar every holiday.

The calendar was huge with a gorgeous abstract image covering about two-thirds of each page. Every month had a different abstract image that ranged from fantastical crystals to flashes of free-form shapes. Under each photo was a very small line of type that read something like, “Sugar cube”, “Human hair follicle,” and so on. These were mesmerizing Scanned Electron Microscopy (SEM) images of ordinary objects.

A Scanned Electron Microscopy (SEM) image of a live leaf

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An SEM creates images of objects with a focused beam of electrons, creating a topological image. Because the instrument uses electrons, images can have up to one-nanometer resolution or 10+ million magnification. The object of the SEM becomes unrecognizable – yet what you see seems to show the secrets of its existence.

Fast-forward a few years. After graduating from art school, I got my first job with an advertising agency in Atlanta, Georgia. Being new to town and not knowing many people, I spent a lot of time after work doing what I loved. . . telling a story through illustration and creative writing.

After watching a news story on pollution, I wrote a poem about a girl that litters a pond, and how the resident creatures rally together to teach her a lesson. Whenever I shared the poem, the consistent response was, “You should make this a children’s book.” I eventually agreed, but every time I’d sit down to illustrate. . . nothing came out. It was very odd for me to be so blocked. Years went by – I’d attempt the drawing again and again. Nothing.

A Scanned Electron Microscopy (SEM) image of a dead leaf

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Fast forward to May 2022, when I got the email from Creative Pinellas that I was awarded an NEA grant for a project encompassing my poem, SEM images and a message about the unseen world of water pollution.

With the focus on engaging both children and adults in Pinellas County, the project vehicle is a coloring book using that poem I created decades ago, “There’s A Crystal Clear Pond,” (which surprisingly, is still relevant today).

The section after the coloring pages contains SEM images of eight pond-soaked objects in the story and a game of matching the SEM image to its object. Each image has a unique QR code that transports the viewer to websites that educate and provide solutions to achieving clean water.

Jeremiah Tipton, my collaborator, is coordinating the science around this project. Jeremiah is a scientist-turned-artist, which, in my opinion, made him the best collaborator possible for this project. He connected us to the SEM Core Facility at USF, where Clare Dennison, Ph.D., has passionately created the SEM images.
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Illustration © Pamela Joy Trow

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Jeremiah is also coordinating workshops for children at multiple libraries around Pinellas County. We’ll be giving the attendees a free coloring book, a box of colored pencils (as long as they last), and a sticker addressing their membership in a Clean Water Club. For engaging adults, Dr. Dennison will be giving public presentations on the SEM results at four universities.

I thank the National Endowment for the Arts and Creative Pinellas for seeing the value of this project to our community. It’s a profound joy to bring a creative, educational project inspired by past events to fruition.

And, by the way, I completed 22 black & white illustrations for the coloring book and 22 full-color illustrations for that children’s book so long in the making. Perhaps all those years of being blocked in illustrating the poem were to ready me for this project. Who knew?
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pamelajoytrow.com

Pamela Joy Trow is a recipient of the Pinellas Recovers Grant,
provided by Creative Pinellas through a grant from the
National Endowment of the Arts American Rescue Plan.
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Illustration © Pamela Joy Trow

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