Alma Thomas & the Cherry Blossoms
You'll notice a recurring theme throughout the Alma Thomas tour: much of Thomas's work was inspired by nature, and more specifically, by the trees and gardens she saw around her every day. In 1973, Thomas created at least three paintings inspired by and titled after what is arguably DC's most famous foliage -- the cherry blossom. Though these beautiful pink and white blooms can be found at various sites throughout the city each spring, the Tidal Basin is home to the largest number of cherry trees in DC, as well as the annual Cherry Blossom Festival.
Alma Woodsey Thomas, “Cherry Blossom Symphony,” 1973, acrylic on canvas. Collection of halley k harrisburg and Michael Rosenfeld, NY; Courtesy of Culture Type
Alma Woodsey Thomas, "Double Cherry Blossoms", 1973, acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of Bowdoin College Museum of Art (Gift of halley k. harrisburg & Michael Rosenfeld).
Postcard (front) from Alma Thomas papers, circa 1894-2001 (Box 1, Folder 34: Letters, 1953-1964)
Postcard (back) from Alma Thomas papers, circa 1894-2001 (Box 1, Folder 34: Letters, 1953-1964)
Photograph of Tidal Basin cherry blossoms. Photographer: snowbear, Morguefile License, accessed 4/5/2021, http://mrg.bz/xAXvVF
Backstory and Context
Thomas painted abstract works, often inspired by nature, in her signature style of bold, short strokes of color atop layered backgrounds, a style she called "Alma's Stripes." These works, often referred to as her "Earth" paintings, were inspired by local gardens and foliage. Thomas said of her Earth paintings in an autobiographical writing circa the 1970s:
"My earth paintings are inspired by the display of azaleas at the Arboretum, the cherry blossoms, circular flower beds, the nurseries as seen from planes that are airborne, and by the foliage of trees in the Fall."
Of inspiration provided by spring foliage in particular, Thomas wrote:
"Spring delivers her dynamic sermon to the world each year, drenching one's thoughts with its magnificent outburst of light hues of colors to darker ones as the weather grows warmer."
And, indeed, Thomas did paint three works inspired by and titled after DC's famous springtime blooms -- "Cherry Blossom Symphony," "Double Cherry Blossoms," and "Early Cherry Blossoms," all completed in 1973. These paintings, in her signature "Alma's Stripes" style, consist of strokes of bright pink color with subtle variations on contrasting backgrounds. It's easy to see their connection to the bold but subtle blooms of the city's cherry trees in March and April.
While several locations across Washington, DC are home to cherry trees, none are so famous as those at the Tidal Basin and East Potomac Park. In fact, included in Thomas's personal papers from the 1950s and 60s, is a postcard of the Jefferson Memorial and cherry trees at the Tidal Basin during peak bloom. Many of the trees at the Tidal Basin were part of a gift of 3,020 cherry trees from the City of Tokyo to the United States in 1912. The large majority of these were of the Yoshino and Kwanzan varieties, and were planted along the Tidal Basin, near the Washington Monument, and throughout East Potomac Park. The gift also included ten other varieties of cherry trees, including 20 Gyoikos, all of which were planted on the White House grounds. Soon after the arrival of the trees in DC, First Lady Helen Herron Taft and Viscountess Chinda, the wife of Japanese ambassador Chinda, held a small ceremony wherein they each planted one cherry tree on the northern bank of the Tidal Basin. This gesture eventually inspired the first local Cherry Blossom Festival in 1935, which became an annual event. Today, the National Cherry Blossom Festival occurs each spring as a month-long celebration of nature, art, and culture around peak bloom time, which falls in March or April.
Valentine, Victoria L. “Celebrating Earth Day with Alma Thomas’s Nature-Inspired ‘Earth’ Paintings.” Culture Type (blog), April 22, 2017. http://www.culturetype.com/2017/04/22/celebrating-earth-day-with-alma-thomass-nature-inspired-earth-paintings/'.
About the Festival, National Cherry Blossom Festival. Accessed April 21st 2021. https://nationalcherryblossomfestival.org/about-us/#History.
Thomas, Alma W. Alma Thomas Papers, circa 1894-2001. Box 2, Folder 7: Autobiographical Writings, circa 1960s - circa 1970s, p 6 & 28, Archives of American Art. Accessed April 21st 2021. https://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/alma-thomas-papers-9241/subseries-3-1/box-2-folder-7.
Alma Thomas Papers, circa 1894-2001. Box 1, Folder 34: Letters, 1953-1964, p 1-2. Archives of American Art. Accessed April 21st 2021. https://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/alma-thomas-papers-9241/series-2/box-1-folder-34.
Alma Thomas Papers, circa 1894-2001. Box 3, Folder 5: Alma W. Thomas Paintings (1973), Martha Jackson Gallery, 1973. Archives of American Art. Accessed April 21st 2021. https://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/alma-thomas-papers-9241/series-4/box-3-folder-5.
Cherry Blossom Festival: Types of Trees, National Park Service. February 12th 2021. Accessed April 21st 2021. https://www.nps.gov/subjects/cherryblossom/types-of-trees.htm.
Cherry Blossom Festival: History of the Cherry Trees, National Park Service. February 13th 2021. Accessed April 21st 2021. https://www.nps.gov/subjects/cherryblossom/history-of-the-cherry-trees.htm.
Thomas, Alma W. Double Cherry Blossoms, 1973. Bowdoin College Museum of Art. Accessed April 21st 2021. https://artmuseum.bowdoin.edu/objects-1/info/13558.
Thomas, Alma W. Cherry Blossom Symphony, 1973. Artsy. Accessed April 21st 2021. https://www.artsy.net/artwork/alma-thomas-cherry-blossom-symphony.
Things to Know About the Cherry Blossoms in Washington, DC. Washington DC. Accessed April 21st 2021. https://washington.org/visit-dc/things-to-know-cherry-blossoms-washington-dc.
“EmbARK Web Kiosk - Double Cherry Blossoms.” Accessed April 5, 2021. https://artmuseum.bowdoin.edu/objects-1/info/13558.
snowbear, Morguefile license. Accessed 4/5/2021. http://mrg.bz/xAXvVF