One Man's Journey into Art

Thursday, July 5, 2007
Artist Jack Terrell, who learned how to paint in prison, is the featured artist for July at the Le Mars Arts Center. Terrell, whose work includes oil paintings reflect religious significance, native American themes, life in the Midwest and pop culture, said he wants to spend his life teaching people to find beauty.

Jack Terrell is tickled by one thought.

"When I have my artist's reception, I'd love to see all of my biker friends in attendance," he smiles. "And I'd love to see the parking lot of the Le Mars Arts Center ?lled with a whole lotta bikes."

The wily Whiting native lets out a dry chuckle.

"Y'see, people have always had a misconception of us motorcycle enthusiasts," Terrell points out. "That we're all outlaws or something. But, in reality, we can be doctors, lawyers, professionals, you name it."

"Oh sure, they are a few oddballs in the bunch," he says with a wink. "But who says being an oddball is all that bad?"

Terrell, with his tattoos, well-worn John Deere cap, and paint-stained "Freedom Rally" t- shirt, certainly doesn't look like your typical "artist" and he knows it.

In fact, he seems to be relishing his current "oddball" status.

It's certainly better today than it was nine months ago when Terrell wasn't so much an artist as he was an inmate.

"I've served time in penitentiaries in Kentucky and in upstate New York," the former carpet cleaning business owner con?des. "Got out in October of 2006."

While in prison, Terrell earned several college degrees, including a Master's in Lithography and Fine Arts in the late 1980s.

"If it hadn't been for prison, I would have never picked up a paintbrush," he admits. "I'm just a farm boy who grew up in Akron and West?eld. The art world just seemed so far away from where I was in life."

During his years in incarceration, Terrell taught himself how to draw.

"When you have nothing but time on your hands," he allows, "you gotta be creative."

Terrell started to doodle.

"My ?rst efforts as an artist wasn't gonna win me any awards," he laughs, "but, man, I could draw me a mean Mickey Mouse. Or Donald Duck. Believe it or not, that's how I got my start: drawing cartoon characters."

As time went on, Terrell began to indulge his artistic ambitions.

"My doodling turned into full-blown drawings," he remembers. "That led to oil paintings and then to ceramics, leathers, pottery and sculpting."

Terrell became so accomplished at his art that he soon began teaching classes to his fellow inmates.

"My largest class was teaching 35 men to paint," he says softly. "My art was what kept me going in prison and here I was teaching it to other guys."

"Wow!" Terrell laughs to himself. "I was making a difference in somebody's life!"

"That was cool!" he smiles, shaking his head. "That was very cool!"

When Terrell was released from prison, his artwork caught the attention of the Le Mars Arts Center's Cheryl Bolser.

"I was working on his mom's estate," she recalls, "when I discovered what a phenomenal artist Jack was."

"I told him I'd like to see samples of his stuff," Bolser explains. "Jack literally brought boxes and boxes of his paintings. They were so vibrant, compelling, and alive that I knew he was a real artist and that his artwork needed to be seen."

The paintings that Terrell had completed ran the gamut from eye-catching abstracts to exquisitely captured wildlife pieces.

"I've never found just one style of painting to concentrate on," he admits. "I like to go from genre to genre."

In his show, Terrell will offer oil paintings that have a religious signi?cance, native American art, scenes that captured life in the Midwest, and pieces devoted to pop culture.

"I love Jeff Gordon and I love NASCAR," he says as he shows off one of his larger pieces. "So I decided why not do an original oil painting that pays tribute to both."

Likewise, Terrell painted a portrait of pop diva Barbra Streisand.

"My personal passion has been in oil portrait painting," he says, examining his work. "I like it but it's also the hardest thing to paint."

"To paint a portrait of somebody," Terrell continues, "you need to capture that person's soul on your canvas. That's the hardest thing an artist can do. It's also the most rewarding."

One of Terrell's most personal pieces is the portrait that he did of his daughter Teresa Cooley.

"I think it captured her character," he says, admiring his artistry, "and it captured her energy."

It also captured Cooley's imagination.

"Never in a million years would I think my dad would take up painting!" she smiles in amazement. "Never in a million years!"

"Whodathunkit," Cooley continues, kidding her dad, "right?"

Inspired by Terrell's example, Cooley says she's like to pick up the paint brush herself.

"Dad's been giving me lessons," Cooley explains, "but I don't think I have the eye for it."

"Oh, sure you do," Terrell says, gently admonishing his daughter. "Everyone does."

"Nope, you just see things differently than most people," Cooley offers. "That's your gift."

The modest Terrell takes the compliment but rolls his eyes nevertheless.

In his heart, he knows his daughter may be right.

But Terrell says he wants to spend the rest of his life teaching people to ?nd the beauty, the artistry within their souls.

"In the road of life, I've made quite a few wrong turns," he confesses. "But I'm luckier than most because I found a way to be creatively. I've found a way to be productive."

"I'm sure there will always be people who will never forget the person that I was," Terrell continues, "but I've done my time and I've made my amends for the people that I've hurt."

He looks around at the art exhibit that is showing off the best of his work.

"This is who I am now," Terrell says. "I've made my share of mistakes and I've paid dearly for it. That didn't have to be the case and I want to do my part to see that others see the light."

"I want to show young people that there can beauty is the places where you'd least expect to ?nd it," he says proudly. "I've seen that beauty and I'll be trying to capture in oil for as long as I can."

The Le Mars Arts Center will be hosting an artist's reception honoring Jack Terrell, its featured artist for the month of July.

The reception will be from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday, July 8, at the Arts Center, 200 Central Avenue, S.E.

Join Terrell and view his artwork, entitled "Evolution: One Man's Journey."

His exhibit may also be seen at the art gallery of the Le Mars Arts Center during regular business hours for the entire month of July.

For more information on the Arts Center, contact them at (712) 546-7456.

For more information on artist Jack Terrell, visit his website at www.jacks/

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: