Alma W. Thomas: Everything Is Beautiful

Frist Art Museum

February 25–June 5, 2022

Alma W. Thomas: Everything Is Beautiful provides a fresh perspective on the artist’s dynamic long life (1891-1978) and multifaceted career that was defined by constant creativity. This major retrospective traces her journey from semi-rural Georgia to Washington, DC, to becoming the first Black woman given a solo show at the Whitney Museum of American Art at age 81. Through artworks and archival materials, this exhibition demonstrates how Thomas’s wide-reaching artistic practices extended far beyond her studio, shaping every facet of her life—from community service, to teaching, to gardening.

In 1907, Thomas and her family migrated from Columbus, Georgia, to DC, and by 1924, she became the first art department graduate at Howard University. A constant learner, she studied the latest developments in art, visiting museums in New York, Europe, and DC, including The Phillips Collection. For 35 years and in a segregated city, she empowered art students at Shaw Junior High School to see beauty in the everyday and brought exhibition opportunities and cultural enrichment to Black youth.

Thomas’s home located at 1530 15th Street, NW, was her artistic epicenter. There, she created small watercolors, aerial landscapes, and brightly patterned large-scale abstractions that reflect her local surroundings, her fascination with space, and her dedication to the environment. Along with these themes, the exhibition explores her interests in performance, puppetry, costume design, and fashion.

Everything Is Beautiful contextualizes Thomas’s art and life within her creative community, delving into her association with Howard University, American University, and the Barnett Aden Gallery, which she helped co-found. Some of her works are placed alongside examples by her friends and contemporaries like Loïs Mailou Jones and Morris Louis who also helped shape the DC art scene. The exhibition offers an intimate look at this inspiring cultural icon who used her imagination and ingenuity to lead a rich and beautiful life.

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