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September 28 -
December 2, 2018

Alma Woodsey Thomas

(b. 1891 Columbus, Georgia d. 1978 Washington, D.C.)

Born in Columbus, Georgia in 1891, Alma Woodsey Thomas was the eldest of four daughters.  Her father, John Harris Thomas was a businessman, and her mother, Amelia Cantey Thomas, was a teacher.  The Thomas family moved from Georgia to Washington, D.C. in 1907 in an effort to escape racial tensions and to seek better educational opportunities for the family.

In 1921 she attended Howard University. She moved back into the family residence on Fifteenth Street; that was to remain her permanent residence until her death in 1978.  As a university student, she enrolled in the home economics department to major in costume design. Her first year at Howard, she met James V. Herring, a professor at the university, who was struggling to create a department of fine arts.  Herring persuaded Thomas to become the first student to enroll in the fine arts curriculum. Thomas graduated from Howard University in 1924 with the school’s first degree in fine arts.  After graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in fine arts, she accepted a position as art teacher at Shaw Junior High School where she remained until her retirement.

After she retired in 1960, Thomas dedicated her energies full time to what she herself termed “serious painting.”  Now almost 70 years old, but gaining in confidence, she began to produce paintings more gloriously colored than ever before.  In her search for personal expression during the early 1960s, she painted many watercolors, finding in this medium a freshness and spontaneity that matched her dynamism.  The lightness of watercolor paint-its pure, bright colors, can be seen in the small works she painted during this period.  Thomas sometimes produced as many as 20 watercolor studies before committing herself to a painting on canvas.

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