Today is a big day for Howard University, the city of Washington D.C., and alumna Alma Woodsey Thomas. Learn about the celebrations for the artist to take place in the coming days, including appearances by former first lady Michelle Obama and more in the Howard official release below.
The Howard University Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts joins Mayor Muriel Bowser and a host of citywide cultural partners on Wednesday, September 22, 2021 to recognize Alma W. Thomas Day in the District of Columbia. Today, Mayor Bowser issued an official proclamation to acknowledge the artistic and educational contributions of Alma W. Thomas, the Howard University Department of Art’s first graduate, on the 130th anniversary of her birth.
“Miss Alma Thomas was a trailblazing pioneer,” said Melanee C. Harvey, art history coordinator and assistant professor of Howard University Department of Art. “During her time as a student at Howard, she embodied the spirit of creating across the Arts by designing costumes for the theatrical productions of the Howard Players and studying sculpture in the Department of Art. We celebrate her as an art ancestor who demonstrated the necessary contributions that artists make in shaping and improving the world.”
In 1907, Thomas and her family migrated from Columbus, Georgia, to Washington, D.C., and by 1924, she became the first art department graduate at Howard University. For 35 years and in a segregated city, she empowered art students at Shaw Junior High School to see beauty in the everyday and brought cultural enrichment to Black youth. Thomas’ home at 1530 15th Street NW was her artistic epicenter. There, she created small watercolors, aerial landscapes and brightly patterned large-scale abstractions that reflect her local surroundings and her fascination with space and the environment. She also pursued her interests in performance, puppetry and fashion. A leader within her creative community, Thomas shaped the D.C. art scene through her association with Howard University, American University and the Barnett Aden Gallery (one of the first Black-owned private galleries in the nation), which she helped co-found.
In 1966, the Howard University Gallery of Art mounted a retrospective exhibition of her paintings, which initiated nationwide recognition of her art. She made history in 1971, when, at age 81, she became the first Black woman to have a solo show at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Howard University honored Thomas in 1975 by bestowing the Alumni Achievement Award to her for “distinguished postgraduate contributions … in the fields of art and colorifics.” In 2015, Thomas became the first Black woman to have a work of art acquired by the White House Collection. She continues to be a trailblazer posthumously as her painting “Alma’s Flower Garden” (c. 1968-1970) was sold in March 2021 for a record-breaking $2.8 million.
Throughout Fall 2021, cultural and educational institutions across Washington, D.C., will join together to celebrate the life of pioneering artist and educator Alma Thomas (1891-1978) with a variety of exciting programs and events alongside the retrospective exhibition “Alma W. Thomas: Everything Is Beautiful” at The Phillips Collection, October 30, 2021 to January 23, 2022. The celebration begins on September 22, Thomas’ birthday, with ongoing events that will take place into 2022. Public programming includes a major symposium, workshops, exhibitions and events, including an appearance by former first lady Michelle Obama and other notable speakers.
The schedule of highlight programming and events is listed below.
Visit www.AlmaThomasDC.org for more information and details on all events.
- September 3, 2021 – August 21, 2022: Display of four major acrylic paintings by Alma Thomas, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts |IN-PERSON
- September 22-23, 2021: John Wilmerding Symposium on American Art: “Alma W. Thomas: Everything Is Beautiful,” National Gallery of Art | VIRTUAL
- *Including an evening celebration of Alma Thomas with former first lady Michelle Obama
- September 24-26: Wilmerding Community Celebration, National Gallery of Art | IN-PERSON
- September 24-26: Feminist Art History Conference, held in collaboration with NGA Wilmerding events, American University | VIRTUAL
- Wednesday, October 13: “Happy Hour: Alma Woodsey Thomas and Her Circles,” National Museum of Women in the Arts | VIRTUAL
- October 30, 2021 – January 23, 2022: “Alma W. Thomas: Everything Is Beautiful,” The Phillips Collection| IN-PERSON
- November 13: “Alma W. Thomas and David Driskell: Journeys in Art,” The Phillips Collection and Howard University | VIRTUAL
- December 8: “Alma Woodsey Thomas: Beneath the Surface,” National Museum of Women in the Arts | VIRTUAL
January and beyond
- January 20: Alma Thomas staged reading of one-act play by local playwright Caleen Jennings, The Phillips Collection | IN-PERSON
- October 6, 2023 – April 21, 2024: “Composing Color: Paintings by Alma Thomas,” Smithsonian American Art Museum | IN-PERSON
- VIRTUAL + IN-PERSON: SAAM Collection of Thomas, Smithsonian American Art Museum
- VIRTUAL: “Drawn to Art: Ten Tales of Inspiring Women Artists,” Smithsonian American Art Museum
- VIRTUAL + IN-PERSON: “Alma Thomas DC Heritage Tour,” DC Public Library