29 Facts About Alma Thomas


Alma Woodsey Thomas was an African-American artist and teacher who lived and worked in Washington, DC, and is recognized as a major American painter of the 20th century.


Alma Thomas, who is often considered a member of the Washington Color School art movement but alternatively classified by some as an Expressionist, earned her teaching degree from University of the District of Columbia.


Alma Thomas was the first graduate of Howard University's art department, and maintained connections to that university through her life.


Alma Thomas achieved success as an African-American female artist despite the segregation and prejudice of her time.


Alma Thomas's paintings are displayed in notable museums and collections, and they have been the subject of several books and solo museum exhibitions.


Alma Thomas was born on September 22,1891, in Columbus, Georgia, as the oldest of four daughters, to John Harris Thomas, a businessman, and Amelia Cantey Thomas, a dress designer.


Alma Thomas was creative as a child, although her serious artistic career began much later in life.


Alma Thomas was provided with music lessons, as her mother played the violin.


In 1907, when Alma Thomas was 16, the family moved to the Logan Circle neighborhood of Washington, DC, to escape racial violence in Georgia and to seek the benefits of the public school system of Washington.


Alma Thomas's parents made this move despite that the family "kind of came down a bit," socially and economically, in leaving their upper-middle class life in Georgia.


In Washington, Alma Thomas attended Armstrong Technical High School, where she took her first art classes.


Alma Thomas entered Howard University in 1921, at age 30, entering as a junior because of her previous teacher training.


Alma Thomas started as a home economics student, planning to specialize in costume design, only to switch to fine art after studying under art department founder James V Herring.


In 1943, Thomas helped James W Herring, her former professor at Howard, and Alonzo J Aden found the Barnett-Aden Gallery, the first successful Black-owned private art gallery in the United States.


In 1958, Alma Thomas visited art centers in Western Europe with Temple University students in an extensive tour arranged by that university's Tyler School of Art.


Alma Thomas's technique involved drawing faint pencil lines across the canvas to create shapes and patterns, and filling in the canvas with paint afterwards.


Alma Thomas evoked mood by dramatic contrast of color with mosaic style, using dark blue against pale pink and orange colors, depicting an abstraction and accidental beauty through the use of color.


In 1972, at the age of 81, Alma Thomas was the first African-American woman to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and later the same year a much larger exhibition was held at the Corcoran Gallery of Art.


Alma Thomas denied labels placed upon her as an artist and would not accept any barriers inhibiting her creative process and art career, including her identity as a black woman.


Alma Thomas believed that the most important thing was for her to continue to create her visions through her own artwork and work in the art world despite racial segregation.


Alma Thomas's works were featured alongside many other African-American artists in galleries and shows, such as the first Black-owned gallery in the District of Columbia.


New York critics were impressed with Alma Thomas's modern style, especially given the fact that she was a nearly 80-year-old woman at the time of her national debut.


Alma Thomas lived in the same family house in Washington, at 1530 15th Street, NW, for nearly her entire life, from 1907 when her family moved from Georgia so she could attend high school until her death in 1978.


Alma Thomas died on February 24,1978, in Howard University Hospital, following aortal surgery.


Alma Thomas believed that creativity should be independent of gender or race, creating works with a focus on accidental beauty and the abstraction of color.


Alma Thomas' style has qualities similar to West African paintings as well as Byzantine mosaics.


Alma Thomas continued to use this technique, in works which explored colors found in trees, flowers, gardens, and other natural imagery.


In 2016, the exhibition Alma Thomas, described in promotional materials as "the first comprehensive look at the artist's work in nearly twenty years," and as presenting "a wide range of evolution of Thomas's work from the late 1950s to her death in 1978," was organized by The Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College and The Studio Museum in Harlem.


In 2019, Alma Thomas's 1970 painting A Fantastic Sunset was auctioned at a Christie's sale.