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HomeDaily Dose of HistoryDAILY DOSE OF HISTORY: Alma Thomas - Artist

DAILY DOSE OF HISTORY: Alma Thomas – Artist

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Alma Woodsey Thomas was born September 22, 1891, in Columbus, Georgia. She was the oldest of four children born to John Harris and Amelia Cantey Thomas. The Thomas family moved to Washington, D.C. in 1906 or 1907 in order to avoid the racial tension in the American South. At an early age, Thomas showed an interest in art by making puppets and sculptures.


While attending Armstrong Technical High School, Thomas took her first art class. She graduated in 1911 and then studied kindergarten education at Miner Normal School. After graduating in 1913, she worked as a substitute teacher. By 1914, she had accepted a permanent teaching job. From 1916 to 1923, Thomas taught kindergarten at the Thomas Garrett Settlement House in Wilmington, Delaware.
In 1921, Thomas began studying home economics at Howard University. She later studied fine art, earning her Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts, in 1924; she was the first graduate of Howard’s Fine Arts program. She later earned her Master’s degree in Art Education from Columbia University in 1934.


After graduating from Howard, Thomas began teaching at Shaw Junior High School, as well as started a community art program. Her program was designed to teach students to appreciate art. In 1958, Thomas was afforded the opportunity to visit art centers in Europe on behalf of The School of Art. She retired in 1960 and dedicated her life to painting.
Alma Thomas, Black painter, Black artist, Black art, Black History, Black History 365, DDH: Daily Dose of History, Watusi (Hard Edge)

Color Field Movement

Thomas’ acclaim as an artist did not come until after her retirement from teaching. She took classes at American University where she learned about the Color Field movement. She then became interested in the use of color and composition. Shortly after studying at American University, Thomas created her first Color Field painting.
Thomas had embraced abstract expressionism, creating pieces such as ‘Watusi (Hard Edge)’ and her manipulation of the Matisse cutout ‘The Snail.’ In 1966, Thomas landed her first art exhibit which was held at the Gallery of Art at Howard University. There, she displayed her collection of abstract nature scenes, titled ‘Earth Paintings.’


At the age of 88, Thomas became the first Black woman to host a solo gallery at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Although Thomas rejected titles that would inhibit her art (including the title of ‘Black woman’), her work was still judged and criticized by Black and White critics. Her abstract expressionist art did not align with the Black art of the day which was created to fight oppression.


Alma Thomas died on February 24, 1978, at the age of 88. She was still living in the house that her family moved into upon their arrival to Washington, D.C. In 2009, former first lady, Michelle Obama, chose several of Thomas’ paintings to be displayed in the White House during Barack Obama’s presidency. Thomas’ ‘Resurrection’ is the first painting by a Black woman to hang in a public space within the White House.
Alma Thomas, Black painter, Black artist, Black art, Black History, Black History 365, DDH: Daily Dose of History, Watusi (Hard Edge)
**The views and actions of the DDH historical figures that are featured may not reflect the views and beliefs of Ramiro The Writer or We Buy Black. Thank you.**
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