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Herron is home for alumnus turned professor

Professor Aaron Coleman leans down behind a piece of printmaking equipment while turning a handle... Credit: Photo by Liz Kaye, Indiana UniversityFor printmaking associate professor Aaron Coleman, there’s no place like the Herron School of Art + Design.

“Every shop I’ve worked in, I’ve tried to figure out how to make it more like the Herron shop,” Coleman said with a smile.

Before joining the Herron faculty in fall 2022, he navigated the art school’s studios as an undergraduate student, beginning in 2005. His journey as an artist started many years earlier, although he didn’t know it at the time.

“When my family moved to Indianapolis, I met some guys in middle school who were into graffiti,” Coleman said. “We drew in sketchbooks and things like that before painting trains, bridges and billboards.

“That was my introduction to visual culture and art, but I didn’t know anything about art at all. I knew that I liked making stuff, writing my name on things, designing text and things like that.”

A teacher at Pike High School encouraged Coleman to pursue his interest in drawing and visual creation. He went on to study art at Vincennes, which helped lead him to IUPUI.

“I did not do very well at Vincennes,” he said. “I thought I was going to be a graphic designer, but I didn’t like the business side of it and didn’t like studying too much. But I did well enough to create a portfolio to get into Herron when I moved back to Indy.”

Once at Herron, he quickly developed a passion for printmaking.

Mixed media sculpture by Aaron Coleman. Photo provided by Aaron Coleman Mixed media sculpture by Aaron Coleman. Photo provided by Aaron Coleman“You walk into a print shop, and there’s 20 people using the same chemicals and facilities,” he said. “There’s community built into a print shop that you don’t find in other mediums. You’re all working together in the same space and sharing ideas. It’s very impactful.”

In addition to the work itself, Herron professors also made an impact on Coleman and his artistic aspirations.

“Andrew Winship was one of my first professors and he was tough on me,” Coleman said. “But it was good that he was tough. It forced me to take things more seriously than I had been.”

The support of Professor Emeritus David Morrison, who became a mentor to Coleman, also meant a lot to him.

“I remember one day in the print shop, he walked past me and gave me a friendly slap on the back with his big, bear paw hand and said, ‘We’re going to make a printmaker out of you yet, Coleman.’ He was so good at what he did, it made me feel like if I buckled down, I might be able to make a life as an artist.”

After graduating from Herron in 2009 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, Coleman went to Northern Illinois University. He taught classes as part of his graduate school program and discovered a new purpose.

“First of all, I liked teaching,” Coleman said. “But more importantly, as a person of color, I realized I could connect to students in a way that I never felt connected.

Aaron Coleman leads a printmaking class at Herron School of Art and Design. Credit: Photo by Liz Kaye, Indiana University“Not only is it rare to find faculty from underrepresented backgrounds, but it’s probably even more rare that they’re Black. So when I started teaching, I recognized that connection instantly, and that sort of sucked me in full force.”

He continued teaching at NIU after graduating with a Master of Fine Arts in 2013, and later took tenure track professor positions at Fresno State and the University of Arizona.

Coleman taught at Arizona for six years, and began to feel settled there with his wife, when a special opportunity came knocking. Master printer and distinguished alumnus, Ken Tyler, made a philanthropic gift to establish the Kenneth E. Tyler Chair in Printmaking.

“My wife and I had to decide whether I was going to even apply for the position,” Coleman said. “She was doing really well in her career, and I was doing really well in my career. But an endowed professorship at my alma mater felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I couldn’t pass up the chance.”

Taking the chance paid off. Coleman said it feels natural to be back at Herron.

“I feel very welcome,” he said. “It’s cool to be peers with some of my former professors. They’re people I looked up to when I was coming up.”

Aaron Coleman talks with a student in class. Credit: Photo by Liz Kaye, Indiana UniversityWhen it comes to Herron students, Coleman said he is impressed.

“They work really hard,” he said. “They’re in the shop all the time. They get there before I do, and they leave after I do.”

Coleman said his top priority is supporting students and helping them achieve their goals.

“If they want to go to grad school, I want to help them prepare for that,” he said. “If they want to be a gallery artist, then I’m going to push them to make the best possible work they can and help them understand the business side of things.

“It’s not one size fits all. I’m here to help each student accomplish whatever they want to accomplish.”