Myrlan Coleman didn’t set out for a career in education, but after spending more than 50 years teaching art at Weatherford College, she found that it is her passion.
Fate happened when Coleman was showing art at a gallery in Fort Worth, having finished her bachelor’s degree at the University of Texas in Austin prior. The former WC President J.C. Nichols had attended the opening and offered Coleman a job at the college. She didn’t have a master’s degree at the time, so she first worked in the audio/visual department and recorded educational TV programs for professors to show in class, lectures and classes by instructors being reviewed. She began teaching after she earned her master’s from Texas Woman’s University.
“My major had not been education at all. I had not thought about teaching,” Coleman said. “And then, when I got into it, I found that that was just my passion. I had never found something that made me so happy, outside of family and friends and stuff, but never something that I did that made me feel so really fulfilled. And I knew right then that’s what I needed to be doing.”
Now, Coleman has decided that now is the time to retire. After continuing her tenure at WC at the behest of students, Coleman said she had figured this is a good stopping point.
“It’s been difficult to turn loose,” Coleman said. “There have been some times that I think, well, there’s so much that needs to be done, maybe it’s time for me to retire, and then some students would come in and say, ‘Just teach one more semester,’ and then I just fall in love with those kids. It’s just so easy because most of the students that I have are there because they want to be; they’re not there because they have to be. They’re taking a course that they love. I’ve really been blessed. It’s been an incredible journey and especially because of my colleagues. They are the finest people I’ve ever known.”
In the past year alone, Coleman has hosted her 100th student art exhibition, was recognized at the WC annual employee awards dinner for 50 years of service and received the 2019 Presidential Service Award at the Presidential Luncheon. Coleman also has designed and created the WC Christmas card each year for about 25 years, and she painted Marjorie Black Alkek’s portrait for the college’s Alkek Fine Arts Center. She also served as department chairperson from 1999 to 2005.
Above all, Coleman said she’ll miss the people of WC the most — students, her colleagues and administration.
“I have had some students who I talk to at least two to three times a year, that call me, that come by,” Coleman said. “Weatherford College is one of the greatest assets Weatherford’s ever had. It is a family, but it’s a family for the whole area. Somehow, I think they’ve had an incredible ability to select people of the highest quality to be a part of that school. It’s hard to talk about leaving it without almost tearing up.”
WC Dean of Humanities and Sciences Dr. Alexander Ibe described Coleman as being the type who would make a person feel welcome and pointed out her grace and humility.
“She will go and introduce herself to every new person she meets,” Ibe said.
As a teacher, Ibe said Coleman is an excellent teacher who has a talent for her work with students individually. Personally, Ibe recalled how Coleman wrote him a handwritten letter after his mother passed away.
“No one else in the college expressed to me the feeling about my loss of my mom,” Ibe said. “She wrote this note as if she knew what I was feeling, as if she knew who my mom was.”
Coleman has left a big impact on WC, Ibe said, and it will be difficult to replace her.
“Her legacy is one that cannot be overshadowed for years to come,” Ibe said. “She has left an imprint right here in the fine arts field that no one that comes after her will be able to fill this position, unless maybe 50 years from now, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.”
“When you talk about art, it’s just Ms. Coleman. That’s who everybody knows,” Ibe said.
To end her semester at the college, Coleman was preparing to host an art exhibition with former students in honor of her retirement, but the event was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When you look at the big picture of things, there’s no way in the world that I would endanger anyone, especially the people I care so much about with anything like a reception,” Coleman said. “What seems big sometimes all of a sudden seems like it’s a minute thing. I’m disappointed that I wasn’t able to complete my face-to-face classes with my students that I love so much and to be able to tell them goodbye like I do every year. I can do it online, but it’s not the same.”
To continue classes amid WC’s closure, students have been mailing Coleman their art so she can critique them. One of the challenges she mentioned is getting all her students on the same page on the video-conferencing platform Zoom and communicating with each of the 130 students in her art appreciation class.
“This will pass, and perhaps we’re learning something from this,” Coleman said.
Former student Samuel Davis, who went on to have a career in art, said Coleman helped him grow his artist talent to a professional level.
“Over 40 years ago, the fall semester of 1979, I began full-time studies at Weatherford College. I was so scared and nervous, not knowing the next two years would be one of the most wonderful, rewarding and inspiring journeys of my life. And most of that came from Myrlan Coleman,” Davis said. “Everyone on campus loved her.”
Over the course of his career as an art director, graphic designer and illustrator, Davis kept in touch with Coleman.
“I give so much credit to her for excellent instruction and mentoring and am truly blessed to know her as a dearest friend,” Davis said. “I can’t imagine Weatherford College without her and will think of her there forever. She is irreplaceable.”
That sentiment is shared by fellow former student Peyton Yates, who said she took Coleman’s class every semester she attended Weatherford College starting in the fall of 2012, a decision in large part rooted in the art teacher’s personal investment in each of her students.
“She’s sweet, perfect, very caring, very attentive and remembers everything and everybody,” Yates said.
“If somebody mentions that they like something or they want to work on an art project, she always has those materials that she’ll bring from home or she’ll special order them so that person can pursue that artistic interest. She also makes a killer pound cake.”
Yates said the positive impact Coleman had on her life is a microcosm of her contributions to WC and everyone around her as a whole.
“I think there aren’t enough words for that,” Yates said.
“She has curated so many fine artists, and so many people keep coming back to her for advice or emotional support. She’s done so much. Even outside of her job, she goes out of her way to make sure things get done.”
Debra Waight, who met Coleman after enrolling in her art class earlier this spring, said the longtime WC instructor’s considerate approach to teaching quickly struck a chord.
“She’s a pretty classy little lady,” Waight said.
“I had heard about her a lot in the past. I was really impressed with her in class because she’s hands on and wants to help everybody. She’s very considerate, when she comes up to what you’re drawing or creating, she never just takes things and starts working on them. She asks you, ‘Is it OK if I show you something?’ Most teachers aren’t really like that, and I think she’s very considerate when she’s trying to teach us.”
In that regard, nothing has changed since Coleman’s hiring with the college in 1969, former WC Vice President of Instruction and Student Services and instructor of physics and mathematics Dr. Richard Bowers said.
Bowers, who was hired on at the same time as Coleman, praised the WC art teacher for her ever-present enthusiasm and passion for her work.
“Through all the years that I’ve known Myrlan, she has displayed an effervescent personality that has endeared her to her students and colleagues alike,” Bowers said. “She is an incredible instructor, and very dedicated to her students. She consistently encourages them to go beyond their current skill levels in order to achieve the next plateau. She has always enjoyed teaching and enlightening her students through art.
“In my opinion, she is Ms. Weatherford College. She’s been there long enough that several generations have known her, and whenever they think of art at Weatherford College, she’s the first person to come to mind.”
contributed to this article.