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

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

Thomas, Alma, 1891-1978

Art teacher, Painter

Collection Information

Size: 6.6 linear feet

Summary: The papers of African-American painter and art instructor Alma Thomas date from 1894-2000 (bulk 1936-1982). They provide documentation of Thomas' artwork, exhibitions, teaching career at Shaw Junior High School in Washington, D.C., and her relationships with friends and colleagues.

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, 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 1999-200 retrospective of her work at the Columbus Museum in Columbus, Ga. 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, the artist's sister.

Biographical/Historical Note

Alma Thomas (1891- 1978) was a painter and teacher in Washington, D.C.


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.

Related Materials

A Finding Aid to the Alma Thomas Papers, 1894-2001, bulk 1936-1982, in the Archives of American Art
Biographical/Historical note
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.
Arrangement note
The papers have been arranged into 8 series:
Series 1: Biographical Material, circa 1911-2001 (Box 1; 0.4 linear feet)
Series 2: Letters, circa 1935-2000 (Box 1-2; 0.7 linear feet)
Series 3: Business Records, circa 1960-1994 (Box 2; 0.2 linear feet)
Series 4: Notes and Writings, circa 1924-1998 (Box 2-3; 1.0 linear feet)
Series 5: Scrapbooks, 1930-1946 (Box 2; 0.3 linear feet)
Series 6: Exhibition Files, 1951-2000 (Box 3-4; 0.7 linear feet)
Series 7: Printed Material, circa 1903-2000 (Box 4-6; 2.4 linear feet)
Series 8: Photographs, circa 1894-2001 (Box 6-8; 0.8 linear feet)
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.
Processing Information note
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.

Additional Forms Available

Portions of this collection and the separated materials lent for microfilming are available on 35 mm microfilm reels 1541-1543 at Archives of American Art offices, and through interlibrary loan. Researchers should note that the arrangement of the collection as described in this finding aid does not reflect the order of the collection on microfilm.

Restrictions on Access

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

How to Cite This Collection

Alma Thomas papers, 1894-2000, bulk 1936-1982. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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