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*On this date in 1891, Alma Thomas was born. She was a Black Painter and instructor.
From Columbus, Georgia, Thomas and her family moved to Washington as a young girl. In 1924 she became the first graduate of the art department of Howard University and ten years later received an M. A. from Columbia University. She taught art at Shaw Junior High School in the nations capitol for thirty-six years until she retired in 1960 to devote her energies to painting. During her long tenure at Shaw, Thomas was a dedicated and imaginative teacher.
She organized the School Arts League Project "to foster keener appreciation of art among Negro children of Washington," and in 1938 she established the first art gallery in the D. C. public schools system. She also served as vice-president of the Barnett Aden Gallery, which sponsored integrated exhibitions of emerging talents such as Merton Simpson, Richard Dempsey, and Jacob Kainen. Thomas’ papers include photographs, lesson plans, and programs concerning her teaching career as well as information about the Barnett Aden and Howard University galleries.
Most of her writings dealt with her gallery and museum exhibitions. There are also catalog's, newspaper clippings, block print Christmas cards, and scrapbooks that are writings of hers. “The use of color in my paintings is of paramount importance to me. Through color I have sought to concentrate on beauty and happiness in my painting rather than on man's inhumanity to man,” wrote Thomas. After a long study of color theory, she found her inspiration at home in Washington; "I discovered that it was the light glittering through a holly tree near the bay window of my home that attracted my fancy. I noticed how the light shone on and through other trees, shrubs, and flowers and tried repeatedly to capture this magic."
Her mosaic-like abstractions, which she called "Alma's stripes," are identified with the work of Washington color field painters Gene Davis, Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, and others active in the area in the 1950s. Alma Thomas died in 1978.
A History of African American Artists from 1792 to present
by Romare Bearden & Harry Henderson
Copyright 1993 by Romare Bearden & Harry Henderson
Pantheon Books, NY