African Americans in Art… Alma Thomas….

Alma Thomas was best known for her Abstract Expressionist Paintings. She came to the fine art world rather late in life, in her late 60s was her first solo show, she was the first of what ever she did. She was born in 1891 and grew up in Georgia. Mrs. Thomas had many obstacles as far as being a woman and being black were in her way, but that didn’t stop her from some pretty incredible firsts.

She was the first woman to have a solo show at the Whitney Museum of Art. Mayor of Washington D.C. set aside September 9, 1972 Alma Thomas Day in Washington D.C. She was invited to the White House by President Jimmy Carter.

As you can tell by looking at her work, well maybe, she looked at the world very abstractly seeing most things in a mosaic like pattern emphasing fun and emotional colors. One of her sayings was COLOR is Life.  In Ms. Thomas hometown black were banned from the library, this didn’t stop her family from improving themselves by having travelling professors and lecturers visit the house, even Booker T. Washington.

Her Dad was worried about the race riots in 1906 in Atlanta so he moved the family to D.C.  Alma Thomas went to a technical High School were she fell in love with architecture and then art. Art was her love, but it didn’t seem that she could fulfill her dream of hanging some paintings on the wall. After getting her degree in art many wanted her to paint full time, but she loved teaching kids about art so she taught full time and painted part time.

In `1972 at the age of 80 she had what she would call her break thru year with her show at the Whitney which was the first show by an african american woman there. Despite suffering from arthritis her painted method often included holding the canvas in her lap and rotating it to the locations she needed to paint at the moment. Alma Thomas never ran out of ideas to paint, she thought of her self as being a young creative person stuck in this old body. She died in 1978 on the operating table.

As an admirer of art in general the most impressive thing about Almas Thomas for me was her use of color. Hope you learned something about this often forgetton American Painter.

Keep drawing, painting, and learning!



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