Alma Thomas

Through color, I have sought to concentrate on beauty and happiness, rather than on man’s inhumanity to man.
— Alma Thomas, 1970

Alma Thomas (1891–1978) is best known for her signature colorful abstract paintings. Thomas’s patterned compositions, energetic brushwork and commitment to color created a singular and innovative body of work. This exhibition is the first comprehensive look at the artist’s work in nearly twenty years and includes rarely exhibited watercolors and early experiments.

Divided into four sections: Move to Abstraction; Earth; Space; and Late Work, this exhibition presents a wide-ranging look at Thomas’s evolving practice from the late 1950s to her death in 1978. Thomas’s artworks are inspired by a range of subject matter from the civil rights movement to the United States Space program to the daily experience of her Washington D.C. garden. Almost four decades after her death, Thomas’s work continues to influence generations of artists and resonate with myriad audiences.

Born in 1891 in Columbus, Georgia, Thomas actively participated in the art world throughout her life. Her family moved to Washington D.C. in 1907 due to growing racial tensions.

In 1924, Thomas was the first person to graduate from Howard University with a degree in Fine Arts. She then earned a Master’s in Arts Education from Columbia University Teachers College in 1934, and between 1950 and 1960 pursued an MFA in Painting from American University. An art teacher for most of her life, Thomas’s most prolific period as an artist occurred after her retirement from Shaw Junior High School in 1960. Thomas made work alongside the Washington Color School, a loose grouping of abstract color field painters based in Washington D.C., which included Kenneth Noland, Morris Louis and Sam Gilliam, among others. In 1972, at age eighty, Thomas achieved a historic first when she became the first African-American woman to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. In 1998, the Fort Wayne Museum of Art organized her first full career retrospective. In 2014, her painting Resurrection (1966) was the first work by an African-American woman to enter the White House Collection.
Exhibition Name
Alma Thomas
Exhibition Type
Solo Exhibitions
Wachenheim Gallery
Feb 6, 2016 - Jun 5, 2016
Alma Thomas is curated by Ian Berry, Dayton Director of the Tang Museum and Lauren Haynes, Associate Curator, Permanent Collection at the Studio Museum, New York.
Alma Thomas
Student Staff
Kaitlyn Spina
Exhibitions Assistant, Collections Assistant
May Cohan
Exhibitions Assistant
Max Seiler
Exhibitions Assistant, Collections Assistant, Digital Media Assistant, Education Assistant for College and Public Programs
Dakota Cohen
Collections Assistant
Evian Pan
Collections Assistant, The Carole Marchand ‘57 Endowed Intern, Tang Guide
Past related events
Pattern as of Apr 22, 7:34:35 pm
daily on-campus page views: 52
daily off-campus page views: 442
current wind in Saratoga Springs: 5.95 mph, W
Website design: Linked by Air