March 2, 2016

A Day in the Working Life

by Amy Martinez

On the third floor of St. Anthony’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Rose Marie Prins goes door to door greeting patients as she pulls a suitcase filled with crayons, markers and other art supplies.

“Hi, my name is Rose Marie,” she says. “I’m an artist, and I’m here to make art with you.”

Ken Wood, hospitalized with a kidney stone just before last Christmas, decides to make a greeting card for the nursing staff. At his bedside, Prins hands him  construction paper and colored pencils, and he draws a snow scene with children sledding near a house.

“I haven’t done this since I was a kid,” he says, cautioning Prins to go easy on him. “I’m not very good at it.”

Prins gives him a few pointers, and they enjoy some friendly banter before Wood’s pain returns, and he has to stop. She quickly packs up her belongings and wishes him a speedy recovery. She then heads to a classroom to lead a team-building exercise for a group of phlebotomists, who talk shop and share hospital jokes as they make greeting cards.

Prins’ primary vocational interest has always been art. Born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa, she worked as a graphic artist in London, Toronto, and Johannesburg …

After moving to the U.S. in the 1970s, she became adept at generating enough income from arts-related work to support her and her son. “Once in a while,” she recalls, “I’d have a regular 9-to-5 job. During those periods, I’d be very depressed come Sunday afternoon.”

In 1998, she earned a Ph.D. in studio arts and arts administration from Union Institute and University in Cincinnati. She hoped to find a full-time faculty position, but her only job opportunities “were in places I didn’t want to live,” she says.

She left a job as an arts administrator in Virginia to move to St. Petersburg in 2000.

… Seven years ago, a St. Petersburg non-profit group called Creative Clay Cultural Arts Center partnered with local hospitals to send artists to the bedsides of patients to provide a therapeutic distraction from their illnesses.

And so on Mondays, St. Anthony’s brings her in to make art with patients in its oncology unit. On Thursdays and Fridays, she’s at All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, working with pediatric cancer patients.

Last New Year’s Eve, she spent a half-hour in the oncology unit at All Children’s with 14-year-old Cora Covington, hospitalized with Sickle cell-related pain. Cora’s two sisters, Ira, 12, and Maya, 9, clustered around her bed to make art collages with Prins, giving their mom, LaMecca, a much-needed break. “They get antsy in here,” LaMecca Covington says. When Prins is there, Covington says, “I just lay back and relax.”

… She also teaches painting as an adjunct art professor in the Program for Experienced Learners at Eckerd College. And on Tuesdays and Thursdays, she teaches painting classes to adults at the Morean Arts Center downtown.

… Eight years ago [with a grant from the Pinellas County Cultural Affairs Department], she converted her garage into a studio and began creating art and holding daylong mixed media workshops and private art lessons there… She maintains a website and social-media presence to promote her artwork. Occasionally, she sells a piece of art for up to several thousand dollars.

Sanctuary HCC Dale Mabry campus

Prins’ multi-media artwork “Sanctuary” was on display at Hillsborough Community College’s Dale Mabry campus in Tampa in 2014.

“If I was painting flamingoes and beach scenes in an impressionistic way, I’d probably be doing really well financially. But that’s not what I do,” she says. “I do non-representational art. I can’t rely on sales of my art to survive.”

… Prins says she enjoys the freedom that comes from being an independent contractor and picking and choosing her assignments… “I’ve had to fly by the seat of my pants — a lot,” she says.