By: Kaylee Cheladyn
Terry Prince has worked as a janitor throughout Edmonton in non-profit organizations for 14 years, with the last 5 of them spent here at Boyle Street Community Services. In addition to being a diligent employee, Terry is a self-taught artist who has painted multiple murals throughout the Boyle Street building and the neighbouring social enterprise Four Directions bank.
Terry has created art since he was an adolescent. As a teenager living in British Columbia, he would spend his summers sketching and drawing and selling his art to tourists at the beach. With no formal training — other than the occasional art class in high school — Terry taught himself how to paint by reading about artistic techniques and studying animal anatomy. “I spent a lot of time in the library,” he says, “I wanted to understand muscle tone and bone structure… I figured, ‘I can’t paint [animals] until I know what’s underneath it all’.”
Terry completed his first full-scale mural while working as a janitor for Operation Friendship in the mid-1990s. Gradually, he began contributing to the walls at Boyle Street, after his artistic talent was discovered by another staff member during a painting activity a few years ago.
Painting is purely a passion for Terry; “I quit for a few years,” he said, after he kept getting requests from friends and family members who wanted to commission his artwork, “I wasn’t looking to make money.”
Terry says that it takes him a few weeks on average to complete a large-scale mural. His latest piece, a mural featured in the Family and Youth Unit in the Boyle Street basement, illustrates his interpretation of an Indigenous folklore tale: a turtle swimming through the universe with the world on his back.
When asked about the origin story, Terry said that “[Indigenous peoples] knew the universe existed before the discovery of space… long before we decided that the Earth was round.” This legend has been passed down for generations in his family, “I first heard the legend from my grandfather, who probably heard it from his father, who heard it from his father.”
He spoke about the important role that art and creativity play in the lives of the community members at Boyle Street. “It takes their mind off what’s really inflicting them… gives them time to rest, time to clear their mind,” says Terry. He feels like his own art helps him do the same.
Terry’s right — studies have shown that art therapy is proven to serve as a coping strategy for those who have experienced trauma; people experience satisfaction at seeing their own visual representations of emotions, challenges, and strengths. Art can even be considered a kind of harm reduction, encouraging community members to find a healthy and creative outlet for their energy.
For his next mural, Terry looks forward to challenging himself with something new. “The hardest things to paint are waterfalls and fire,” he says, “they each have movement and many different colours.” His favourite scenes to paint are of nature; many of Terry’s pieces are inspired by the mountainous landscapes of British Columbia, as Terry says “they remind [him] of home.”