Today's Monday Mourning is mine. I decided that maybe once a month I'd share one of my own. That way at least I'll have ten or so paintings to keep from this project. Also I really need more submissions! Please send me your Monday Mourning! (firstname.lastname@example.org)
I've been interested in art most of my life. I majored in art education and I taught art for four years. I remember in college going with my mom to art museums in Kansas City a lot, like every other weekend. After college, I tried to visit a gallery or museum every time I traveled somewhere. All that is to say that I had never heard of Alma Thomas or seen her work.
When I saw her story, her paintings, and her photo last week, I was sort of hurt. How could I have missed her? How could her story not been told in an art history class along the way? How could her paintings have not been shown in color theory class? How could I have not taught my students about her?
But then it hit me. You know how sometimes you read just the right book, at just the right time in your life? And you completely fall in love with that book and it's your new favorite book ever. It's sort of over the top to say it but the book changed your life or at least changed you in some significant way.
That's exactly how I feel about Alma Thomas. She's my new favorite. And I feel like knowing about her and her work is going to change me in some significant way.
Alma Thomas was born in Columbus, Georgia in 1891. Her family later moved to Washington, DC where they settled in the house that Alma would live in for the next 71 years.
Alma was the first graduate of Howard University’s fledgling art department in 1924. She taught art for 35 years in a segregated junior high school in Washington, D.C., while always making her own work.
After a long and distinguished career as a teacher, she retired in 1960 to focus her energies entirely on her own art. Though her early work was realistic, Alma Thomas is best known for the brightly colored, mosaic-like style of abstraction that she adopted in her 70's.
In 1972, at age 80, Alma Thomas was the first African-American woman to receive a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum. Interviewed that same year by The New York Times she said:
“One of the things we couldn’t do was go into museums, let alone think of hanging our pictures there. My, times have changed. Just look at me now.”
Alma Thomas died, living in the same house that her family moved into upon their arrival in Washington on February 28, 1978. She never married nor had any heirs. She was 86 years old.