Join the staff of the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) for a virtual happy hour to celebrate Alma Woodsey Thomas’s 129th birthday! A local female bartender will teach participants how to make a specialty cocktail (or mocktail) in her honor. Howard University Associate Professor of Art History, Dr. Gwendolyn Everett, Ph.D., will speak about Thomas’s important relationship with the school, and NMWA staff will share artworks and explore the museum’s collection and archives.
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ABOUT THE ARTIST
Alma Woodsey Thomas (1891–1978) was born in Columbus, Georgia, the oldest of four girls. In 1907, her family moved to Washington, D.C., seeking relief from racial violence in the South. As a girl, Thomas dreamed of being an architect and building bridges, but there were few women architects a century ago. Instead, she attended Howard University, becoming its first fine arts graduate in 1924. In 1924, Thomas began a 35-year career teaching art at a D.C. junior high school. She was devoted to her students and organized art clubs, lectures and student exhibitions for them. Teaching allowed her to support herself while pursuing her own painting part-time.
Thomas’ early art was realistic, though her Howard professors Loïs Mailou Jones and James V. Herring challenged her to experiment with abstraction. When she retired from teaching and was able to concentrate on art full-time, Thomas finally developed her signature style.
She debuted her abstract work in an exhibition at Howard 1966, at the age of 75. Thomas’ abstractions have been compared with Byzantine mosaics, the Pointillist technique of Georges Seurat and the paintings of the Washington Color School, yet her work is quite distinctive.
Thomas became an important role model for women, African Americans and older artists. She was the first African American woman to have a solo exhibition at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art and exhibited her paintings at the White House three times.