News & Politics

DC Cultural Institutions Plan a Citywide Celebration of the First Black Woman to Have Her Art Acquired by the White House

An educator and artist, Alma W. Thomas helped shape the DC art scene

Alma Thomas with two students at the Howard University Art Gallery, 1928 or after. Unknown photographer. Alma W. Thomas Papers, The Columbus Museum.

This fall, more than a dozen cultural institutions in Washington, DC, will put on an exhibit and other programming in honor of local artist and educator Alma W. Thomas.

Thomas was the first Howard University art department graduate in 1924, and she taught art at Shaw Junior High School. Thomas—who died in 1978—helped shape the DC art scene by working with her alma mater, American University, and the Barnett Aden Gallery, which she co-founded. In 1971, she was the first Black woman to have a solo show at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art, and in 2015, she was the first Black woman to have work acquired by the White House Collection. Her art includes watercolors, landscapes, and patterned, large-scale abstract paintings.

The celebration includes a mix of virtual and in-person events, chief among them being the Phillips Collection’s Everything Is Beautiful exhibit, running October 30 through January 23, 2022. Starting in September, there will also be teacher workshops, a three-part symposium on Thomas’s life with an introduction by former First Lady Michelle Obama, and opportunities to learn about more women artists. The DC organizations sponsoring events include the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the National Gallery of Art, Howard University, and American University.

Alma Thomas, “Air View of a Spring Nursery,” 1966, the Columbus Museum, museum purchase and gift of the National Association of Negro Business Women, and the artist.
Alma Thomas, “Snoopy Sees a Sunrise,” 1970, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Washington, DC, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. David K. Anderson
Alma Thomas, Untitled, 1922/1924, the Kinsey African American Art & History Collection

This article was corrected after its original posting.