Local museums and institutions pay homage to a Washington, DC icon with virtual and in-person events, exhibits and programming
Beginning this September, cultural and educational institutions across Washington, DC will celebrate the artist Alma Thomas’s life with a variety of programs, events and a major exhibition. All of these serve as opportunities to learn of the incredible contributions Thomas made to our cultural heritage.
Born in 1891, Thomas migrated to DC with her family in 1907. By 1924, she was the first art department graduate from Howard University. Thomas set up shop at her home at 1530 15th Street NW, which served as her artistic epicenter. In addition to teaching at Shaw Junior High School, Thomas also painted watercolors, aerial landscapes and large-scale abstractions and helped craft a vibrant art scene in DC. In 1971, she became the first Black woman to receive a solo show at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Forty four years later, she also became the first Black woman to have a work of art acquired by the White House Collection.
Read below for numerous ways to honor this DC legend over the coming months. Additionally, mark the calendar for Oct. 6, 2023, when the Smithsonian American Art Museum will revisit Thomas’ legacy with Composing Color: Painting by Alma Thomas.
View Smithsonian American Art Museum’s collection of Thomas’ works – Ongoing
DC’s beloved Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM), which shares a building with the National Portrait Gallery, features 30 of Alma Thomas’ works among its collection. Many are on view, showcasing Thomas’ distinctive style and wondrous interpretation of colors. SAAM also features a comic on Thomas’ life in its Drawn to Art series and the museum will host a Teacher Workshop focused on the DC legend on Sept. 17.
Wednesday – Sunday, 11:30 a.m. – 7 p.m. | Free admission | More info
Smithsonian American Art Museum, F & 8th Streets NW, Washington, DC 20004
NMWA xChange: Alma Woodsey Thomas and the Little Paris Group – Sept. 14
The National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) hosts this monthly virtual talk show that features special guests, including artists, curators and educators. September’s edition will focus on Alma Thomas and her landmark collaborations with The Little Paris Group. Admission is free, but registration is required.
12-12:45 p.m. | Register
Virtual Wilmerding Symposium & Community Celebration – Sept. 22-26
In honor of Thomas’ legacy, the National Gallery of Art has dedicated its 2021 John Wilmerding Symposium of American Art and Community Celebration to the artist and her contributions. Former First Lady Michelle Obama will provide a virtual introduction to two days’ worth of conversations between artists, scholars and curators. Then, from Sept. 24-26, the Gallery will host an in-person, on-site community celebration with free art kits, a special horticultural display, a community gallery, Thomas-inspired, colorful gelato in the East Building Concourse and much, much more. Make sure to register in advance.
National Gallery of Art, 4th Street & Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20565
2021 Feminist Art History Conference – Sept. 24-26
American University offers the seventh edition of this art and literary focused conference in a virtual format. On Sept. 25 at 11 a.m., Jonathan Frederick Walz, curator of The Phillips Collection’s upcoming exhibit dedicated to Alma Thomas, will host a session on the artist’s fascination with space, time and the performing arts. The next day, at 11:30 a.m., the University and the National Gallery of Art host the conference’s final session, a lively discussion that will focus on feminist issues in museum practice.
Virtual Happy Hour: Alma Woodsey Thomas and Her Circles – Oct. 13
Thomas’ stunning art circles are the subject of this virtual get-together hosted by NMWA. Make a specialty cocktail in Alma’s honor and expect artworks and stories from the Washington Color School and the aforementioned Little Paris Group, frequent collaborators of Thomas. Fanna Gebreyesus, curatorial associate at Glenstone Museum, will serve as guest speaker. The program is free and registration is required.
5:30-6:30 p.m. | Register
Alma W. Thomas: Everything is Beautiful – Oct. 30 – Jan. 23, 2022
The highly anticipated exhibit that serves as the inspiration for a months-long celebration of Thomas will provide a fresh perspective on the artist’s life and multifaceted career. Everything is Beautiful will trace her trek from Georgia to DC and beyond through artworks and archival assets, showcasing the artist’s wide-reaching influence, dynamic artistic practices, intriguing interest in puppetry and much, much more. Note that on Jan. 20, 2022, The Phillips Collection will host a staged reading of a one-act play on Thomas’ life by local playwright Caleen Jennings.
Tuesday – Sunday, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. | Tickets
The Phillips Collection, 1600 21st Street NW, Washington, DC
The Phillips Collection and Howard University Celebrate Alma Thomas and David Driskell – Nov. 13
The deep connection between Howard University (HU), Alma Thomas and artist David Driskell will be mined through four 30-minute virtual conversations hosted by The Phillips Collection and HU. Thomas and Driskell, both titanic figures in the history and study of African American art and its (long overdue) rise in cultural conversation and relevance in the second half of the 20th century, had a profound and shared interest in spirituality and identity. Their contributions, collaborations and ties to DC serve as the focus of these discussions.
3-5 p.m. | More info
Alma Woodsey Thomas: Beneath the Surface – Dec. 8
Gwen Manthey, paintings conservator at SAAM, will join NMWA for an in-depth conversation on the Smithsonian’s research into Thomas’ enthralling artistic process. You will learn about the techniques and materials that the artist used to make her abstract works and breathtaking patterns. The virtual program is free to attend and registration is required.
1-1:45 p.m. | Register
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