Cramming one’s life into 187 sq.-ft. living space might not be everyone’s dream come true, but for art student Sandra Coleman, her tiny, portable house is the perfect fit. Not only is her life now movable, but she even has an art studio on wheels. She parks it on her aunt’s land here in Sheridan, where she plans to stay until next fall when she heads to University of Wyoming.
Right now, she’s finishing up her associate’s degree in art at Sheridan College, where she was recently named student of the year. The accomplishment was a huge surprise for Coleman, who at age 40, feels like she’s making up for lost time.
Dreams of going to art school had been put on hold when, at 17, Coleman enlisted in the Army. It was supposed to be a short-term stint allowing her the opportunity to garner money for college which, after graduation from high school, was still well out of her financial reach.
She didn’t want to be burdened with school loans, so she opted to enlist. She scored high enough on the entrance exam to have her pick of jobs and chose mobile satellite communications, something at the time she knew nothing about but that sounded interesting. It ended up being a good choice.
When her term concluded, the Army offered her a bonus to stay in for another 6 years. When that gig ended, they offered her another bonus and she remained in the service for the next 10 years.
Along with providing her educational money and a hefty nest egg for which to buy her tiny dream home, she was also able to travel and live in places all over the country and around the world, including posts in South Korea, Kuwait, Uzbekistan and Japan.
Japan was by far her favorite stop. She had a tiny Japanese apartment downtown, in which she loved the food and all the “Japanese gadgets.”
It fed into her love of small spaces and designs.
Finally, after two decades, she decided it was time to come home and fulfill her long-term dream of art school.
It felt weird being one of the oldest students in her classes, and she initially approached school impatiently as if making up for lost time.
The first couple semesters at college were admittedly a little rough for the tenured soldier.
“I was fighting myself and my instructors about what art is,” she said. “All of my life I’d just been doing art on my own, just picking something to draw and doing it.”
As a child, she’d grown up with a love of charcoal pencils and drawing. Turning humdrum subjects into fanciful art was an alley into her imagination, where as a quiet kid, her drawings took on a new magical life in the form of stories.
“Since early childhood, I have always loved the idea that I could create my own reality with just a pencil and paper,” she said. “There is something deeply satisfying in taking a mundane object or idea and giving it a whimsical twist.”
She wasn’t used to discussing technique or the emotions that went into a work of art.
“It was difficult to think about art like that,” she said.
Add to this the additional pressure of being in her late 30’s and feeling like she had to race against the clock to make up for lost time.
“I felt like I was so behind and didn’t have time to make the normal mistakes that students make when learning,” she said. However, she learned that making mistakes and taking one’s time was all a part of the process.
“Since early childhood, I have always loved the idea that I could create my own reality with just a pencil and paper”
She’s learned the hard way that every student has a lot to learn, regardless about how old they are or where they’re coming from. That’s been one of the more assiduous lessons, but she’s getting there, and learning to enjoy the process of exploration into the art itself.
“My teachers are pushing me to try new techniques and mediums I would have never tried if I hadn’t been forced to,” she said. Among these include oil painting, sculpture and wood carvings, which she’s begun to really enjoy.
“Getting used to different kinds of art was cool,” she said. Oil painting, in particular, “blew her mind” because she wasn’t accustomed to working in color.
“I was so used to graphite and pencil and think I was sort of afraid of color,” she said.
It’s been an awakening, and being in school has really helped open her eyes to all the possibilities.
“They literally force new things on me, and it’s so cool,” she said. “I hadn’t worked with clay since elementary school, let alone tried any block cuts.”
The more she learns, the more appealing she finds nature and drawing natural stuff. She doesn’t know why that is but thinks it probably has something to do with growing up in Sheridan and innately liking to spend time outdoors.
And though she tends toward reality, her teachers continue to try to push her away from that literal side of her mind that was honed during her time in the military.
“I’m trying to become more whimsical again,” she said, “and put more gesture into my drawings.”
It feels good to finally be in school again, she said, even if she’s in the same class as her nephew, which strikes her as funny.
And after school, she’s not sure where she wants to go, but as she points out, she has the perfect house to go with her. For now, she’s enjoying making up for lost time with her family, who she maybe got to see once a year, if that often, during her time in the service.
Right now, she’s looking forward to entering her first juried contest at the Whitney Center for the Arts on campus, as well as entering a VA art contest come spring.
Next fall, she’ll be leaving her tiny house behind in Sheridan, and trading it in for a furnished apartment for non-traditional students on campus. But as she notes, her tiny house is equipped for off-the-grid living, which she thinks might just be the perfect fit for a budding artist big on adventure and exploring her talents … and the world.
By: Jen C. Kocher
Whitney Center for the Arts
The Whitney Center for the Arts is home to live performances, art exhibitions, and the Schools of Music and Art of Sheridan College.
Officially opened in 2016 through a generous contribution from Whitney Benefits, the WCA was conceived to provide Sheridan College with much-needed space for its fine and performing arts programs. Its 422-seat concert hall, the largest in the region, features a changeable proscenium stage, motorized fly system, and a hydraulically convertible orchestra pit.
The musical classroom space in the WCA features a large band room, a choral room, a piano classroom, multiple practice rooms, a recording studio, a music theory classroom, faculty offices, and storage.
As home to the SC Art Program, the WCA is one of the most advanced, innovative art education centers in the United States. Art learning spaces focus on cross-disciplinary opportunities for students studying ceramics, painting and drawing, sculpture, printmaking and digital media. Two gallery spaces showcase work from students, faculty and traveling shows from top artists around the world.
Morgan Price Artist Talk and Opening
March 7 at 4:00 pm – 6:00 pm
Artist Talk at 4 p.m. with reception to follow.
Free and open to the public.
The Edward A. Whitney Gallery is open Monday-Friday 10a-7p and Sundays 12-4p.