The First African-American Women to Display Her Art in the White House

We have Michelle Obama to thank (again). She selected the first piece of art by an African-American woman to hang in a public space of the White House as a part of the permanent collection. Alma Thomas' Resurrection has taken its place in history in the Old Family Dining Room and is a subtle, but strong symbol of change. It was eloquently described by NYT art critic Holland Carter as "forward-looking without being radical; post-racial but also race-conscious."

Through color, I have sought to concentrate on beauty and happiness, rather than on man’s inhumanity to man.
— Alma Thomas

Born in Georgia and raised in Washington D.C., Alma Thomas started painting at a very young age. After being the first graduate with a degree in fine arts from Howard University in 1924, she taught art at Shaw Junior High School until she retired at age 69. Only after that was she able to paint full-time, and it was then that she spent 18 years producing the work which she would be most known for—her colorful paintings with loosely applied patched in unconventional grids and circles.

Although she was an unknown artist during her lifetime, Thomas worked with the Washington Color School, which had a largely white male environment, and was the first African-American woman to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York in 1972, six years before her passing. She is revered as an impactful artist, but what inspires us most was her ability to overcome barriers of race, gender, and age.

Check out the gallery below to see the selected work from Alma Thomas:

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