Alma Thomas papers, 1894-2000, bulk 1936-1982

A Finding Aid to the Alma Thomas Papers, 1894-2001, bulk 1936-1982, in the Archives of American Art, by Jean Fitzgerald and Erin Kinhart

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Table of Contents:



Biographical Information

Alma Thomas was a painter and art instructor in Washington, D.C.

Alma Woodsey Thomas was born in Columbus, Georgia on September 22, 1894, the eldest of the four daughters of John Harris Thomas and Amelia Cantey Thomas. The family moved to Washington, D.C. in 1906. Alma Thomas graduated in 1911 from Armstrong Technical High School where she was first introduced to art classes. From 1911 to 1913, she took a course in kindergarten teaching at the Miner Normal School, Washington, D.C. Because of the lack of permanent positions in the D.C. public school system, she accepted substitute work until early 1914 when she received a teaching position on the Eastern shore of Maryland. Then, from 1916 to 1923, she taught kindergarten at Thomas Garrett Settlement House in Wilmington, Delaware.

Thomas originally enrolled at Howard University in Washington, D.C. as a home economics major in 1921, but after studying under Prof. James V. Herring in his newly established art department, she earned a B. S. degree in Fine Arts in 1924. She then began her teaching career at Shaw Junior High School in Washington, D.C. that lasted from 1924 until her retirement in 1960. During this time she established community arts programs that would encourage her students to develop an appreciation of fine arts. Activities included marionette programs and distribution of student-designed holiday menu cards for dinners given for soldiers at the Tuskegee Veterans' Hospital sponsored by the Red Cross Society.

In 1934, Thomas earned an M.A. degree in Art Education from Columbia University in New York. At American University in Washington, D.C., she studied Creative Painting under Joe Summerford, Robert Gates, and Jacob Kainen from 1950 to 1960. In 1958, she toured of the art centers of Western Europe under the auspices of the Tyler School of Fine Arts at Temple University in Philadelphia.

Following her retirement from teaching in 1960, Thomas devoted all her time to painting. Her work was exhibited at the Dupont Theatre Art Gallery, at Howard University, and at the Franz Bader Gallery before she was honored in 1972 with solo exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, and at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Alma Thomas died on February 24, 1978 in Washington, D.C.

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Overview of the Collection

Scope and Contents

The papers of African-American painter and art instructor Alma Thomas date from 1894-2001 (bulk 1936-1982), and measure 6.6 linear feet. The papers provide documentation of Thomas' artwork, exhibitions, teaching career at Shaw Junior High School in Washington, D.C., and her relationships with friends and colleagues. Included are biographical material, letters, personal business records, notes and writings, scrapbooks, exhibition files, printed materials, and photographs.

Biographical material includes identity cards, chronologies, biographical accounts including an audiocassette of Thomas's verbal autobiographical account, records from her teaching career, and files concerning Tony Sarg's marionette class and Thomas's tour of European art centers. Thirty three folders of letters are primarily from art institutions and colleagues, including Franz Bader, Adelyn Breeskin, poet Nathalie J. Cole Johnson, Celine Tabary, and Joshua Taylor.

Personal business records include price lists, miscellaneous receipts and files concerning the Art in Embassies Program, the Martha Jackson Gallery, a benefit auction for the Corcoran School of Art, and the designation of the Thomas family home as a historic property. Notes and writings include four notebooks, "Alma's Birthday Book" which contains listings of friends' birthdays, a hand-written statement by Thomas with a painted sketch on the reverse, miscellaneous notes by Alma and her sister, J. Maurice Thomas, and writings by others about Thomas.

Eleven scrapbooks document Thomas' teaching career through the activities of the art classes she taught at Shaw Junior High School. Exhibition files contain a wide variety of documents for numerous exhibitions of Thomas' work from the early 1950s through a 1999-2000 retrospective of her work at the Columbus Museum in Columbus, Georgia. Printed materials include newsclippings, exhibition announcements and catalogs, books, pamphlets, brochures, reports, and press releases. Photographs are of Alma Thomas, family, friends and colleagues, her home and garden, and of exhibitions not documented in the Exhibition Files series. Much of the material in the collection is accompanied by explanatory notes written by J. Maurice Thomas.

Arrangement and Series Description

The papers have been arranged into 8 series:

Subjects and Names

This collection is indexed in the online catalog of the Archives of American Art under the following terms:

Subjects:

  • Sarg, Tony, 1882-1942
  • Martha Jackson Gallery
  • Art in Embassies Program (U.S.)

Subjects-Topical:

  • Women painters -- Washington (D.C.)
  • Painting, American
  • African American artists -- Washington (D.C.)
  • Art teachers -- Washington (D.C.)

Types of Materials:

  • Audio cassettes
  • Video recordings
  • Photographs
  • Scrapbooks

Names:

  • Taylor, Joshua Charles, 1917-
  • Breeskin, Adelyn Dohme, 1896-
  • Bader, Franz, 1903-1994
  • Johnson, Nathalie J. Cole
  • Tarbary, Celine
  • Thomas, J. Maurice

Provenance

The Alma Thomas papers were donated in several accretions between 1979 and 2004 by J. Maurice Thomas, the artist's sister, and in 2010 by Charles Thomas Lewis, Thomas' nephew.

Separated and Related Materials

In 1979, J. Maurice Thomas loaned papers for microfilming. Most, but not all, of the loaned material was later donated and is described in this finding aid. Loaned materials not donated at a later date are available on reels 1541-1543 and are not described in the container listing of this finding aid.

How the Collection was Processed

The Alma Thomas papers were merged and processed by Jean Fitzgerald in August 2007. Additional papers donated in 2010 were integrated and processed in 2012 by Erin Kinhart.


How to Use the Collection

Restrictions on Use

Use of original papers requires an appointment. Use of archival audiovisual recordings with no duplicate access copy requires advance notice.

Ownership & Literary Rights

The Alma Thomas papers are owned by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Literary rights as possessed by the donor have been dedicated to public use for research, study, and scholarship. The collection is subject to all copyright laws.

How to Cite this Collection

Alma Thomas papers, 1894-2001 (bulk 1936-1982). Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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Detailed Description and Container Inventory

Series 1: Biographical Material, circa 1911-2001
(Box 1; 0.4 linear feet)

This series includes identity cards, chronologies, biographical accounts, an audiocassette of an unidentified broadcast of Alma Thomas discussing her life history, report cards, and letters and teacher's rating reports from Shaw Junior High where she taught art classes for 36 years. There are individual files concerning Thomas's early teaching career at the Thomas Garrett Settlement containing clippings and photographs of Thomas, her training at Tony Sarg's marionette class containing letters, a notebook, printed material, an illustrated diploma, and Thomas's sketch of a skeleton marionette, her trip to European art centers containing Thomas's passport, receipts, notes, and printed material, and her painting of Pearl Bailey for Scott Kirpatrick containing a sketch, clippings, and playbills for Hello Dolly from 1967 and 1995. Also found are family history records and biographical documentation on Alma's younger sister, J. Maurice Thomas.

Box Folder
1 1 Identity Cards, 1956-1957, undated
1 2-3 Chronologies, 1968-1980
(2 folders)
1 4 Biographical Accounts, 1960-1961, undated
1 5 Alma Thomas Describing her Life History, undated
(1 sound cassette)
1 6 Graduation Program from Armstrong Technical High School, 1911
1 7 Annotated Booklet Used at Miner Normal School, 1912
1 8 Howard University Play Programs (Photocopies) Listing Alma Thomas as Costume Designer, 1921-1924
1 9-10 File Concerning the Tony Sarg Marionette Class, 1934-1936
(2 files)
1 11 Report Cards, 1930-1971
1 12 File Concerning the Thomas Garrett Settlement, 1920
1 13 Letters of Employment and Promotion at Shaw Junior High School, 1924-1960
1 14 Teacher Rating Sheets from Shaw Junior High School, 1925-1957
1 15-16 Awards, 1967-1975
(2 folders)
1 17-19 File Concerning the European Trip, 1958
(3 folders)
1 20 File Concerning Thomas's Painting of Pearl Bailey, 1967-1995
1 21 Death Certificate, 1978
1 J. Maurice Thomas Material
1 22 Biographical Information, circa 1960-2001
1 23 Oral History Transcript, 1986
1 24 Attestation of Pilgrimage, undated
1 25 Centenarian Awards, 2000, 2001
1 26 Lock of Hair, undated
1 27-28 Family History, 1948-1993
(2 folders)

Series 2: Letters, circa 1935-2000
(Box 1-2; 0.7 linear feet)

Letters are primarily from colleagues and art institutions concerning the exhibition of Thomas's work and related activities. There are scattered letters from Franz Bader, Adelyn Breeskin, poet Nathalie J. Cole Johnson, Celine Tabary, and Joshua Taylor. Following Alma Thomas's death, her sister J. Maurice Thomas dealt with the various galleries interested in exhibiting her sister's work. Many letters have been annotated by J. Maurice Thomas.

Box Folder
1 29 Letters with Unknown Surnames, undated
1 30 Letters with Surnames "A-M," undated
1 31 Letters with Surnames "N-Z," undated
1 32 Letters, 1935-1939
1 33 Letters, 1941-1946
1 34 Letters, 1953-1959
1 35-36 Letters, 1960-1969
(2 folders)
1 37-41 Letters, 1970-1974
(5 folders)
1 42-49 Letters, 1975-1979
(8 folders)
1 50-51 Letters, 1980-1989
(2 folders)
1 52-59 Letters, 1990-1997
(8 folders)
Box Folder
2 1-2 Letters, 1998-2000
(2 folders)

Series 3: Business Records, circa 1960-1994
(Box 2; 0.2 linear feet)

Personal business records include price lists, miscellaneous receipts and individual files concerning the Art in Embassies Program, the Martha Jackson Gallery, and a benefit auction for the Corcoran School of Art. There is also a file concerning J. Maurice Thomas's successful efforts to have the Thomas family home designated as a historic property.

Box Folder
2 3 Price Lists, 1960, undated
2 4 Lists of Art Work, 1983
2 5 Loan Receipts, 1969-1977
2 6 Art in Embassies Program, 1969-1994
2 7-8 Martha Jackson Gallery, 1971-1977, undated
(2 folders)
2 9 Benefit Auction for Corcoran School of Art, 1977
2 10 Shipping Receipts for Household Items, 1978
2 11 Miscellaneous Receipts, 1971-1982
2 12-13 Historic Designation for Thomas House, 1983-1987
(3 folders)

Series 4: Notes and Writings, circa 1924-1998
(Box 2-3; 1.0 linear feet)

This series includes four notebooks, a briefly annotated engagement calendar, "Alma's Birthday Book" containing listings of friends' birthdays, a hand-written statement by Thomas with a painted sketch on the reverse, miscellaneous notes by Thomas and writings about Alma Thomas. Also found are writings by J. Maurice Thomas, including research notes on James Weldon Johnson.

Box Folder
2 14 Notebook 1, undated
2 15 Notebook 2, undated
2 16 Notebook 3, undated
2 17 Notebook 4, undated
2 18 "Alma's Birthday Book," 1936
2 19 Engagement Calendar, 1968
2 20 Autobiographical Writings by Alma Thomas, undated
2 21 Statement by Alma Thomas with Painted Sketch on Reverse, undated
2 22 Miscellaneous Notes by Alma Thomas, 1952-1975, undated
2 Writings by J. Maurice Thomas
2 23 Biographical Writings, undated
2 24-29 Research on James Weldon Johnson and Slavery, circa 1924-1985
(6 folders)
2 30 Notecards, circa 1930s-1980s
Box Folder
3 1 Manuscript about Alma Thomas's March on Washington, D.C., 1983
3 2-10 Miscellaneous Notes, undated
(9 folders)
3 11 Outline for Exhibition The Black Woman by Unidentified Author, undated
3 12 Typescript about Alma Thomas by Jacob Kainen, undated
3 13 Thesis, "The Path to Creativity: The Life and Career of Alma W. Thomas in Washington DC," by Sandra Fitzpatrick, 1981-1983
3 14 "What is More Far-Reaching than Beauty" by Unidentified Author, circa 1998
3 15 Miscellaneous Writings about Alma Thomas, 1978, undated
3 16-17 Guest Books, 1970-1976
(2 folders)

Series 5: Scrapbooks, 1930-1946
(Box 2; 0.3 linear feet)

These eleven Shaw Junior High School Scrapbooks were compiled for a variety of school activities initiated by Alma Thomas in order to stimulate her students to appreciate the arts. They contain letters, notes, clippings, programs with block print covers designed by students, miscellaneous printed material, and photographs.

Box Folder
3 18 Scrapbook 1, "C1a Exhibit 3," 1930-1940
3 19-21 Scrapbook 2, "C1b Exhibit 6," 1930-1939
(3 folders)
3 22-24 Scrapbook 3, "C2 Exhibit 2," 1937-1939
(3 folders)
3 25 Scrapbook 4, "C3b Exhibit 1," 1937-1939
3 26 Scrapbook 5, "C3b Exhibit 2," 1938
3 27-28 Scrapbook 6, "C3b Exhibit 3," 1936-1946
(2 folders)
3 29 Scrapbook 7, "C3b Exhibit 4," 1936-1939
3 30 Scrapbook 8, "C3b Exhibit 6," 1935-1939
3 31 Scrapbook 9, "C3b Exhibit 8," 1936
3 32 Scrapbook 10, "C3b Exhibit 9," 1938-1939
3 33 Scrapbook 11, "C4 Exhibit 1," 1934

Series 6: Exhibition Files, 1951-2000
(Box 3-4; 0.7 linear feet)

Found here are Alma Thomas exhibition files which contain a variety of materials, including letters, receipts, clippings, exhibition announcements and catalogs, and photographs. The file for Alma W. Thomas: A Retrospective of the Paintings at the Columbus Museum also contains two videocassettes.

Box Folder
3 34 Inspiration House, "First Annual Exhibition of the Little Paris Studio Group" (1951), 1951
3 35 Watkins Gallery at American University, "Alma Thomas / Hilda Shapiro" (1959), 1959
3 36 Dupont Theatre Gallery of Art, "Watercolors by Alma Thomas" (1960), 1960
3 37 George Washington University Art Gallery, "Negro Artists in Washington" (1968), 1968
3 38 Franz Bader Gallery, "Alma Thomas: Recent Paintings" (1968), 1968
3 39 Lee Nordness Gallery, "1969: Twelve Afro-American Artists," (1969), 1969
3 40 Ringling Museum of Art, "Washington Painters" (1969), 1969
3 41 Franz Bader Gallery, "Alma Thomas: Earth and Space Paintings" (1970), 1970
3 42-43 Fisk University, "Alma W. Thomas: Recent Paintings" (1971), 1970-1972
(2 folders)
3 44-47 Whitney Museum of American Art, "Alma W. Thomas" (1972), 1970-1973
(4 folders)
3 48-51 Corcoran Gallery of Art, "Alma W. Thomas Retrospective" (1972), 1972-1976
(4 folders)
3 52 Martha Jackson Gallery, "Alma Thomas Paintings" (1973), 1973
3 53 Museum of the Philadelphia Civic Center, "Women's Work: American Art 1974" (1974), 1974
3 54-56 Franz Bader Gallery, "Alma Thomas" (1974), 1974
(3 folders)
3 57 Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, "Heritage Days: The Black Perspective" (1976), 1976
3 58 Los Angeles County Museum of Art, "Black American Artists: 1750-1950" (1976), 1975-1977
Box Folder
4 1-5 National Museum of American Art, "A Life in Art: Alma Thomas, 1891-1978" (1981-1982), 1981-1983
(5 folders)
4 6 Alma Thomas Memorial Gallery, "Twenty Works by Alma Thomas and Her Contemporaries" (1982), 1982
4 7 Columbus Museum of Arts and Sciences, "A Life in Art: Alma Thomas, 1891-1978" (1982), 1982
4 8 Kwan Hoon Museum of Fine Art, "Grand International Mail Art Exhibition of Visual Message" (1982), 1982
4 9-14 Fort Wayne Museum of Art, "Alma W. Thomas: A Retrospective of the Paintings" (1998), 1994-1999
(6 folders)
4 15 Tampa Museum of Art, "Alma W. Thomas: A Retrospective of the Paintings" (1999), 1999
4 16 New Jersey State Museum, "Alma W. Thomas: A Retrospective of the Paintings" (1999), 1999
4 17 Anacostia Museum Gallery, "Alma W. Thomas: A Retrospective of the Paintings" (1999), 1999
4 18-19 The Columbus Museum, "Alma W. Thomas: A Retrospective of the Paintings" (1999-2000), 1999-2000
(2 folders; includes 2 videocassettes: VHS)

Series 7: Printed Material, circa 1903-2000
(Box 4-6; 2.4 linear feet)

Printed material includes primarily clippings, exhibition announcements and catalogs for Thomas and others. Also found are calendars of events, programs, brochures, booklets, and reproductions of art work.

Box Folder
4 20 Clippings, undated
4 21 Clippings Concerning the Howard Theater, Washington, D.C., 1903-1999
4 22-25 Clippings, 1919-1959
(4 folders)
4 26-30 Clippings, 1960-1969
(5 folders)
4 31-37 Clippings, 1970-1974
(7 folders)
4 38-44 Clippings, 1975-1979
(7 folders)
4 45-51 Clippings, 1980-1989
(7 folders)
4 52-60 Clippings, 1990-2000
(9 folders)
4 61-63 Exhibition Announcements and Catalogs, undated
(3 folders)
Box Folder
5 1-5 Exhibition Announcements and Catalogs, 1952-1959
(5 folders)
5 6-10 Exhibition Announcements and Catalogs, 1960-1965
(5 folders)
5 11-16 Exhibition Announcements and Catalogs, 1966-1969
(6 folders)
5 17-19 Exhibition Announcements and Catalogs, 1970
(3 folders)
5 20-23 Exhibition Announcements and Catalogs, 1971
(4 folders)
5 24-25 Exhibition Announcements and Catalogs, 1972
(2 folders)
5 26-32 Exhibition Announcements and Catalogs, 1973-1977
(7 folders)
5 33-35 Exhibition Announcements and Catalogs, 1980-1990
(3 folders)
5 36 Exhibition Announcements and Catalogs for Others, undated
5 37-47 Exhibition Announcements and Catalogs for Others, 1931-1976
(11 folders)
Box Folder
6 1 Exhibition Announcements and Catalogs for Others, 1977-1978
6 2 Exhibition Announcements and Catalogs for Others, 1982-1998
6 3 Annual Report from the Corcoran Gallery, Washington, D.C., 1976
6 4 Annual Reports from The Columbus Museum, Columbus, Georgia, 1994-1995
6 5 Book, Black Dimensions in Contemporary American Art by J. Edward Atkinson, 1971
6 6 Book, The Elementary Spelling Book, 1908
6 7 Book, I Have a Dream: A Collection of Black Americans on U.S. Postage Stamps, 1991
6 8 Book, Modern American Painting and Sculpture by Sam Hunter, 1959
6 9-11 Booklets, 1952-1989
(3 folders)
6 12-14 Brochures, 1969-1988, undated
(3 folders)
6 15 Calendars of Events, 1977-1993, undated
6 16 Christmas Cards Designed by Alma Thomas, circa 1960s
6 17-18 Howard University Publications, 1975-1997
(2 folders)
6 19 Press Releases, 1971-1975
6 20-26 Programs, 1944-1998, undated
(7 folders)
6 27 Prospectus, undated
6 28 Reproductions of Art Work, undated
6 29 St. Luke's Episcopal Church Year Books, 1973, 2000
6 30-32 Unannotated Engagement Calendars Containing Reproductions of Art Work, 1969-1994
(3 folders)

Series 8: Photographs, circa 1894-2001
(Box 6-8; 0.8 linear feet)

Photographs are of Alma Thomas, family members, friends and colleagues, her residence and garden, miscellaneous exhibition openings not contained in exhibition files, and art works. Included within the family photographs are many of J. Maurice Thomas. Also found are two family photograph albums. There is a photograph of Prof. James V. Herring with Sam Gilliam, and photographs of poet and founding member of UNICEF, Nathalie V. Cole Johnson.

Box Folder
6 33-38 Photographs of Alma Thomas, 1915-1972, undated
(6 folders)
6 39-42 Photographs of Family Members, circa 1894-1971
(4 folders)
Box Folder
7 1-3 Photographs of Family Members, circa 1894-2001
(3 folders)
7 4-10 Photographs of Friends and Colleagues, 1911-1968, undated
(7 folders)
7 11-12 Photographs of Alma Thomas's Residence and Garden, circa 1969-1994
(2 folders)
7 13 Photographs of Exhibition Opening at Barnett Aden Gallery, undated
7 14-15 Photographs of Exhibition Openings at Howard University, circa 1966
(2 folders)
7 16 Photographs of Exhibition Opening at Martha Jackson Gallery, undated
7 17 Photographs of Art Class at St. Luke's, circa 1960s
7 18-20 Photographs of 100th Birthday Party for J. Maurice Thomas, 1998
(3 folders)
Box Folder
8 1 Photographs of House in Columbus, Georgia, 1982, circa 1990
8 2 Photographs of J. Maurice Thomas' Living Room, circa 1980s
8 3 Photographs Costumes Designed by Alma Thomas, 1923 or 1924
8 4 Photographs of Art Work by Alma Thomas, 1969-1970, undated
8 5 Photographs of Art Work by Others, undated
8 6 Photographs of Steam Boats, undated
8 7 Miscellaneous Negatives, undated
8 8-10 Photograph Album, 1920s
(3 folders)
8 11 Photograph Album, 1982