Artist, first graduate of the Department of Art
Field of Study
Bachelor of Science
QuoteMy real belief is in my art, in beauty. I say everyone on earth should take note of the spring of the year coming back every year, blooming and gorgeous.
Alma Thomas was an artist and educator best known for her colorful abstract paintings. Born and raised in Columbus, GA., her family moved to Washington, D.C. when she was 15, seeking relief from the racial climate of the South. Thomas graduated from Howard University in 1924, becoming the first person to graduate from the newly-formed Department of Art. Though Thomas’s early artwork was realistic, her Howard professor James V. Herring and peer Lois Mailou Jones—both notable artists in their own right—encouraged her to experiment with abstract styles. Thomas taught art for 35 years and pursued painting in her free time. After retiring from teaching, Thomas developed her signature abstract style and debuted her first exhibition at Howard University at the age of 75. Her mosaic-like paintings translated art history, nature, and personal aesthetic in simple compositions influenced by the pointillism and abstract expressionism movements. Thomas was the first African American woman to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American art. In 2015, 37 years after her death, Thomas's piece “Resurrection” (1966) became the first piece of artwork by a Black woman to hang in a public space in the White House and enter the permanent collection.