On the anniversary of the death of Alma Thomas – and to continue honoring Black female artists during Black History Month – today we’re celebrating the beautiful life of this highly influential painter.
Alma Thomas was known for her vivid colors and expressive shapes that represented the beauty of nature. Her signature technique, lovingly termed “Alma’s Stripes,” places dots in a range of colors in mesmerizing swirling patterns.
Alma was the first Black woman to receive a bachelor’s degree in art in the entire USA.
After growing up in Columbus (GA), where as a Black child she did not have much access to fine art, Alma spent a lot of time in nature. This inspired her lifelong inspiration from and love of nature. In 1924, Alma was the first to graduate from the new arts program at Howard University, and, in so doing, she became the first Black woman to receive a bachelor’s degree in art in the entire USA.
Though Alma had an extremely successful career as a painter, she only devoted herself to painting after a 38-year-long teaching career – in which she put just as much love and dedication to her kids as she did to her painting later on.
As a teacher in Washington DC, Alma made sure that students in her area were exposed to fine arts. She developed several arts programs for her school, including the first art gallery in the DC public school system.
One painting, “Alma’s Garden,” is inspired by the hours Alma spent gazing outside her window into her backyard.
After retiring from teaching and inspiring countless students to create and appreciate art, Alma began to nurture her own love for painting. Once again spending ample time in nature, Alma started creating pieces to represent it, her signature art style strong from the get-go. One painting, “Alma’s Garden,” is inspired by the hours Alma spent gazing outside her window into her backyard.
Despite starting relatively late in life, Alma still achieved major distinction in the art world. In 1972, she became the first Black woman to have a solo exhibition at the prestigious Whitney Museum in Manhattan. Another barrier-breaking triumph? Her painting Resurrection was the first work by a Black woman to become a part of the White House collection!
As I wrote in a previous celebration of Alma’s work: “Much like her colorful paintings, Alma Thomas exuded energy and verve, signaling a deep love for the beautiful things in life. Her intricate designs emulating the elegance of nature seem to have poured out of her soul.”
Though Alma is no longer with us, her bright spirit lives on in the impact she has had on art education, the bounds that she broke in the art world, and of course, her brilliant paintings.
© Julia Lasker (2/25/2023) FF2 Media
LEARN MORE/DO MORE
Read my tribute to Alma Thomas here.
From the White House History website: “October 14, 2016, First Lady Michelle Obama hosted a reception celebrating the recent renovation of the Old Family Dining Room, located on the State Floor of the White House. During their residence in the Executive Mansion, the Obamas oversaw the 2015 refurbishing of the dining room, incorporating modern art and design into the room.” (Article includes photo showing Resurrection by Alma Thomas hanging on the north wall.)
CREDITS & PERMISSIONS
Featured photo: “Alma Thomas – Elysian Fields ” by Gandalf’s Gallery is licensed with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/
Bottom photo: Images from Pomegranate’s 2022 Alma Thomas calendar have been provided by Pomegranate and are used here by FF2 Media with their permission. Crop by Julia Lasker. All Rights Reserved by Pomegranate.