By Christine Snyder

In honor of Black History Month, Fine Art Miracles will be featuring a black artist each week!  This week’s artist spotlight features Alma Thomas, an American painter who used nature as the inspiration for her abstract, colorful mosaics.  Hopefully you are as inspired from Alma’s life, art, and legacy as I am!

Alma Thomas was born in 1891 in Columbus, Georgia.  Her family of six lived in a beautiful Victorian home on a hill above town, and she spent much of her childhood admiring the beautiful flowers, trees and ponds where she lived.  When Alma was 15, her family moved to Washington, D.C.  Shortly after, she enrolled in Howard University, where she eventually became Howard’s very first fine arts graduate.  She went on to obtain her Master of Arts Education degree from Columbia University.  Alma became a school teacher during segregation and taught for 35 years.  It was not until the age of 68–after she retired–that Alma Thomas began to paint professionally. 

Suffering from arthritis and having retired from a long career, Alma almost gave up painting.  However, when Howard University approached her to do an exhibition of her work, Alma once again turned to nature to inspire her second act as a professional artist.  Most of Alma’s work consisted of vibrantly colored mosaics depicting concentric circles, abstract landscapes, or floating patches of color.  As a black woman, Alma witnessed racial violence and experienced segregation and discriminaiton.  She often expressed that she chose to center her work on beauty and happiness to contrast the barriers she faced throughout her life. 

Alma Thomas; 1971; Acrylic on canvas; 72 X 52 1/8 IN. (182.9 X 132.2 CM.); The Martha Jackson Memorial Collection: Gift of Mr. and Mrs. David K. Anderson, 1980

Alma Thomas began her professional painting career at age 68 and went on to become recognized as a major American painter of the 20th century.  She was also the first African American woman to hold a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of Art in New York City.  Her paintings were exhibited at the White House three times.  Several books have been published about her work and life.  She has also become a role model for women, African Americans, and seniors. 

Alma Thomas is an inspiration whose work is not only timeless, but it also provides joy and captures the beauty of nature.  She is proof that it is never too late to change your life or pursue new passions.  Thank you, Alma, for bringing so much beauty to the world!

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