A Finding Aid to the Alma Thomas Papers, circa 1894-2001, in the Archives of American Art
Digitized Content

Summary
Collection ID:
AAA.thomalma
Creators:
Thomas, Alma
Dates:
circa 1894-2001
Languages:
English
Physical Description:
5.5 linear feet
Repository:
The papers of Washington, D.C. painter and art educator Alma Thomas, date from circa 1894-2001 and measure 5.5 linear feet. The papers document Thomas's work as a teacher, and her development and success as a painter of the Washington Color School, through biographical material, letters, notes and writings, personal business records, exhibition files, printed materials, scrapbooks, photographs, an audio recording, and two video recordings.

Scope and Contents note
Scope and Contents note
The papers of Washington, D.C. painter and art educator Alma Thomas, date from circa 1894-2001 and measure 5.5 linear feet. The papers document Thomas's work as a teacher, and her development and success as a painter of the Washington Color School, through biographical material, letters, notes and writings, personal business records, exhibition files, printed materials, scrapbooks, photographs, an audio recording, and two video recordings.
Biographical material includes identity cards, chronologies, an audio recording of an autobiographical account, and scattered documentation of Thomas's education and teaching careers with D.C. Public Schools, Howard University, and Thomas Garrett Settlement in Wilmington, Delaware. Also found are records relating to Thomas's participation in a summer marionette class taught by Tony Sarg in 1934, and a tour of European art centers which Thomas took in 1958.
Letters relate primarily to the exhibition of Thomas's work and related events and are from galleries, museums, other art institutions, colleagues, and friends including Franz Bader, Adelyn Breeskin, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Howard University Gallery of Art, Martha Jackson Gallery, Nathalie J. Cole Johnson, Vincent Melzac, Celine Tabary, and Joshua Taylor.
Notes and writings include four notebooks and autobiographical writings by Thomas, a "Birthday Book," and an annotated engagement calendar. J. Maurice Thomas's writings about Alma Thomas, her research for a bibliography on James Weldon Johnson, and writings by others, including Jacob Kainen, about Alma Thomas, are also found here.
Exhibition files contain a wide variety of documentation for many group and solo exhibitions of Thomas's work from the early 1950s through a 1998-2000 traveling retrospective exhibition, including solo exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Corcoran Gallery of Art in 1972. The records include letters from Franz Bader Gallery, David Driskell at Fisk University, and Vincent Melzac. Photographs include Thomas with individuals including William Buckner, Jeff Donaldson, David Driskell, James W. Herring, and Vincent Melzac. Also found is a photograph of the 1951 Little Paris Studio Group picturing Lois Mailou Jones, Celine Tabary, Alma Thomas, and others. Two video recordings are of events related to the 1998-2000 retrospective at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art and the Columbus Museum of Art. Records documenting a 1981-1982 exhibition at the Smithsonian National Museum of American Art, A Life in Art: Alma Thomas, includes the script of a video written by Adolphus Ealey.
Personal business records include price lists, gift and loan 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 in Washington, D.C. as a historic property.
Eleven scrapbooks document Thomas's teaching career through the activities of the art classes she taught at Shaw Junior High School.
Printed materials include announcements and catalogs for exhibitions and other events; clippings which document Thomas's career and subjects of interest to her; Christmas cards featuring block prints designed by Thomas; and other programs and publications featuring Thomas.
Photographs are of Alma Thomas, family, and friends and colleagues including Sam Gilliam, James V. Herring, and Nathalie V. Cole Johnson; art classes taught by Thomas; Thomas's homes in Columbus, Georgia and Washington, D.C.; and exhibitions not documented in Series 4: Exhibition Files, including photographs of Alma Thomas at an opening at Barnett Aden Gallery with Alonzo Aden and others.

Arrangement note
Arrangement note
The papers have been arranged into 8 series:
Series 1: Biographical Material, 1911-2001 (Box 1; 0.5 linear feet)
Series 2: Letters, circa 1930-2001 (Boxes 1-2; 0.6 linear feet)
Series 3: Notes and Writings, circa 1920s-circa 1998 (Box 2; 0.7 linear feet)
Series 4: Exhibition Files, 1951-2000 (Boxes 2-3, OV 7; 0.8 linear feet)
Series 5: Personal Business Records, circa 1950s-1994 (Box 3; 0.2 linear feet)
Series 6: Printed Material, circa 1908-2000 (Boxes 3-5, OV 7; 1.8 linear feet)
Series 7: Scrapbooks, 1930-1946 (Box 5; 0.3 linear feet)
Series 8: Photographs, circa 1894-2001 (Boxes 5-6; 0.6 linear feet)

Biographical/Historical note
Biographical/Historical note
Washington, D.C. painter and art educator Alma Thomas (1891-1978) was known for her abstract paintings filled with dense patterns of color, and was considered a major artist of the Washington Color School.
Thomas was born in Columbus, Georgia, in 1894, and was the eldest of the four daughters of John Harris Thomas and Amelia Cantey Thomas. The family moved to Washington, D.C. in 1906 and Thomas was first introduced to art classes at Armstrong Technical High School. Following her graduation in 1911 she took a course in kindergarten teaching at the Miner Normal School, and subsequently worked as a substitute teacher in the Washington, D.C. public school system until 1914, when she took a teaching position on the Eastern shore of Maryland. 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 Lois Mailou Jones amd James V. Herring in Herring's newly established art department, she earned a Bachelor's degree in Fine Art in 1924, and became the first person to graduate from the program. Thomas 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, distribution of student-designed holiday menu cards for dinners given for soldiers at the Tuskegee Veterans' Hospital, art clubs, lectures, and student exhibitions. In 1943 she became the founding vice president of Barnett Aden Gallery, which was established by James V. Herring and Alonzo Aden and was the first integrated gallery in Washington, D.C.
In 1934 Thomas earned an M.A. degree in Art Education from Columbia University. At American University in Washington, D.C., she studied creative painting under Joe Summerford, Robert Gates, and Jacob Kainen from 1950 to 1960, and began to break away from representational painting and experiment more seriously with Abstract Expressionism. In 1958 she participated in a tour 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 herself full-time to painting, and continued to develop her signature style. She was inspired by nature and the desire to express beauty through composition and color, and refused to be constrained by societal expectations related to her race, gender, and age, achieving her greatest success in the last decade of her life. Her work was exhibited at the Dupont Theatre Art Gallery, Franz Bader Gallery, and the Howard University Gallery of Art, before she was honored in 1972 with exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
Thomas's work has been exhibited at the White House and can be found in the permanent collections of major museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Administration
Separated Materials note
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.
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. Further processing and finding aid revision was completed by Stephanie Ashley in 2018, and the collection was digitized with funding provided by The Walton Family Foundation and The Friends of Alma Thomas.
Existence and Location of Copies
The bulk of the collection was digitized in 2018 and is available on the Archives of American Art website. Materials which have not been digitized include blank pages, blank versos of photographs, and duplicates. In some cases, exhibition catalogs and other publications have had their covers, title pages, and relevant pages digitized.
The sound recording in the collection has been digitized for research access and is available at Archives of American Art offices. Researchers may view the original cassette for the archival notations on it, but the original cassette is not available for playback due to fragility.
Author
Jean Fitzgerald, Erin Kinhart, and Stephanie Ashley
Sponsor
Funding for the processing and digitization of the Alma Thomas paper is provided by The Walton Family Foundation and The Friends of Alma Thomas
Immediate Source of Acquisition note
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's nephew.

Using the Collection
Preferred Citation note
Alma Thomas papers, circa 1894-2001. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Conditions Governing Access note
Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Use of archival audiovisual recordings with no duplicate copies requires advance notice.
Conditions Governing Use note
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.

Keywords
Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Scrapbooks Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Audio cassettes Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Video recordings Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Women painters -- Washington (D.C.) Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Painting, American Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Photographs Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Art teachers -- Washington (D.C.) Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
African American artists -- Washington (D.C.) Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Thomas, J. Maurice (John Maurice), 1900 or 1901- Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Tarbary, Celine Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Sarg, Tony, 1882-1942 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Taylor, Joshua Charles, 1917- Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Johnson, Nathalie J. Cole Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Martha Jackson Gallery Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Bader, Franz, 1903-1994 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Breeskin, Adelyn Dohme, 1896-1986 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Art in Embassies Program (U.S.) Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

Repository Contact
Archives of American Art
750 9th Street, NW
Victor Building, Suite 2200
Washington, D.C. 20001
https://www.aaa.si.edu/services/questions
https://www.aaa.si.edu/