Alma Thomas at Howard University
Alma Thomas studied art at Howard University under the tutelage of Professor James V. Herring. She was a graduate of the University's new Fine Arts program. Prior to pursuing her degree, she also attended the Miner Teachers Normal School, where she trained to teach kindergarten. Numerous works were displayed at Howard University's Gallery of Art in the 1966 exhibit, "Alma W. Thomas: A Retrospective Exhibition, 1959-1966."
Alma W. Thomas and James Herring at the Alma W. Thomas, A Retrospective Exhibition, 1959-1966
Alma W. Thomas, A Retrospective Exhibition, 1959-1966 Program
Miner Teachers Normal School
Backstory and Context
After graduating high school, Thomas enrolled in the Miner Teachers Normal School (located at 2565 Georgia Ave NW), where she trained to become a kindergarten teacher. After teaching in Delaware for six years, Thomas returned to Howard University to study art. In 1924, she became the first graduate of the new Art Department. She studied under Professor James V. Herring, who was the only instructor in the Art Department for several years, and founded the Barnett-Aden Gallery, the first Black-owned private art gallery in the US. The Barnett-Aden Gallery (located at 127 Randolph Place, NW) often featured Thomas' works.
When Thomas taught at Shaw Middle School (at the time located at 1620 7th Street, NW), she often brought visiting artists and professors from Howard University to speak with her students. She maintained relationships with artists and members of the Howard University art faculty through her work with the Barnett-Aden Gallery and the Little Paris Studio Group (located at 1220 Quincy Street, NW).
Though Howard University offered to exhibit her work in a retrospective series in 1966, Thomas chose to develop and debut her abstract work instead. She was 75 years old when her late-career watercolor paintings with bold colors and shapes were put on display. As her former professor James V. Herring put it, "Her retirement has been not from, but into art" (Smithsonian Online Virtual Archives).
Alma Thomas, Smithsonian American Art Museum. Accessed April 6th 2021. https://americanart.si.edu/artist/alma-thomas-4778.
Alma Thomas papers, circa 1894-2001, Archives of American Art. Accessed April 6th 2021. https://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/alma-thomas-papers-9241/subseries-3-1/box-2-folder-7.
Alma W. Thomas: A Retrospective Exhibition, 1959-1966 (1966), Howard University Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Online Virtual Archives. Accessed April 6th 2021. https://sova.si.edu/details/AAA.thomalma?s=0&n=12&t=D&q=Identity+cards&i=7#ref799.
Barnett Aden Gallery, African American Heritage Trail, Cultural Tourism DC. Accessed April 22nd 2021. https://www.culturaltourismdc.org/portal/barnett-aden-gallery-african-american-heritage-trail.