“Let This World Be Beautiful: Celebrating the Life and Art of Alma Thomas” is a DC Public Library exhibition honoring the remarkable Washington, D.C. artist Alma W. Thomas.
Known for using bright, expressive colors and abstract patterns, Thomas gained national recognition in the 1960s and 1970s. She was the first African American woman to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. In 2015, her painting "Resurrection" was selected for display in the White House, making her the first African American woman to achieve this distinction.
Alma Thomas moved to the District in 1907. She became the first graduate of Howard University's Fine Arts Department in 1924. She later earned a master's degree in art education from Columbia University. After a long teaching career in D.C. Public Schools, Thomas focused on her painting career in retirement.
The title of the exhibition is taken from a speech by W.E.B. DuBois, whose ideas influenced Thomas as she pursued beauty in all aspects of her life and work. The exhibition explores Thomas’s life as an educator, producer, and painter in two parts.
Photo Credit: Unknown photographer Alma Thomas with two students at the Howard University Art Gallery, 1928 or after Black and white photograph, 8 × 10¹⁄₈ in. Alma W. Thomas Papers, The Columbus Museum.
Part 1 | Alma W. Thomas: Art, Education, Performance
The west side of the Great Hall presents "Alma W. Thomas: Art, Education, Performance." This section showcases Alma Woodsey Thomas's journey and contributions to art, supplemented by photographs and her original works. This section unfolds in four thematic areas: "Art: Making Things" provides an overview of Thomas's life and work environment; "Education: Teaching and Learning" delves into her educational impact; "Studies on Paper: Practice Makes Perfect" displays her vibrant preparatory works; and "Performance: All the World’s a Stage" explores her theatrical engagements and personal portrayal. Notably, "Studies on Paper" highlights nine of Thomas’s preparatory pieces, underscoring the process behind her acclaimed paintings.
Part 2 | Teaching Artists from DC Public Schools Inspired by Alma W. Thomas
The second portion of the exhibit spotlights works from Washington’s artist-educators. The works on display employ diverse media and styles, reflecting on the theme with approaches ranging from portraiture to abstraction. Although Thomas is renowned for her distinctive patterned and colorful abstract art, the selected pieces also resonate with her identity, her embrace of a joyful outlook, and her experiences as an educator. This juried exhibition is a collaboration with DC Public Schools' Division of Arts. An open call for entries led to the selection of twenty-eight teachers' works for exhibition.
Artists from DC Public Schools
- Lauren Bomba, Maury Elementary School
- Frank Bowen, John Burroughs Elementary School
- Julia D'Ambrosi Major, Mann Elementary School
- Brian Michael Dunn, John Lewis Elementary School
- Sandra Granobles, Marie Reed Elementary School
- Aprile Jeweline Hill, Brightwood Elementary School
- Robin Leed, Janney Elementary School
- Marla McLean, School Within a School @-Goding
- Sophie Schriever, Malcolm X Elementary School @ Green
- Autumn Spears, Drew Elementary School
- Jerika Williams-Smith, Noyes Elementary School
- Will West, King Elementary School @ Green
- Curt Cunningham, Deal Middle School
- Rachel Hargreaves, Deal Middle School
- Kristopher Ring, MacFarland Middle School
- Maame A-Bawuah, Roosevelt High School
- Bella, Cardozo Education Campus
- Ashley Brown, Coolidge High School
- Electra, Benjamin Banneker High School
- Delvecchio Faison, Ballou High School
- Mary Finney, H.D. Woodson High School
- Shawn Michael Glover, Roosevelt High School
- Jarvis Grant, Duke Ellington School of the Arts
- Courtney Savoy Harper, Coolidge High School
- Carmen Jenkins, School Without Walls High School
- Kristin Murray, Roosevelt STAY Opportunity Academy
- Christopher Prosser, Bard High School Early College D.C.
- Mandy McCulloch, Columbia Heights Education Campus
Upcoming Event | Alma W. Thomas: Curatorial Perspectives
Saturday, Mar. 9, 1 p.m. | Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library
In this panel, three curators will discuss the different approaches they have pursued in their exhibitions featuring Alma Thomas, which range from an expansive view of Thomas’ life and varied contributions; to a focused deep dive into her nature-inspired abstract compositions; to her enduring legacy in arts education and D.C.’s strong tradition of Black art educators over the past century. Attendees will gain a nuanced understanding of this iconic artist’s varied contributions and approaches.
The panel will be moderated by Jonathan P. Binstock, Vradenburg Director and CEO of The Phillips Collection—which hosted the nationally touring exhibition “Alma W. Thomas: Everything is Beautiful” in 2021-2022. Joining Binstock will be Melissa Ho from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Samir Meghelli from the Smithsonian Institution's Anacostia Community Museum, and Jonathan Frederick Walz from The Columbus Museum in Columbus, Georgia and curator of the DC Public Library Exhibit "Let This World Be Beautiful: Celebrating the Life and Art of Alma Thomas."
Plan Your Visit
Explore the Exhibit
"Let This World Be Beautiful: Celebrating the Life and Art of Alma Thomas" will be open to the public during regular library hours. It will be located in the Great Hall of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library. Nearby Metro stops include Gallery Place/Chinatown and Metro Center.
Sign Up for a Guided Tour
Guided tours of the exhibit will be led by docents on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. and on Saturdays at 1 p.m. Signing up for a tour is easy! Simply click the button below to view the calendar, select your preferred date and click "Register" to reserve your spot. To book a group tour (groups of 6 or more individuals) please email MLKexhibits@dc.gov.
Jeffrey C. Stewart, ed.
About the Exhibition Team
About the Curator
Jonathan Frederick Walz received an MA and a PhD from the Department of Art History and Archaeology at the University of Maryland, College Park. He spent the academic year 2009–2010 at the David C. Driskell Center as one of six graduate student curators for the exhibition Embodied: Black Identities in American Art from the Yale University Art Gallery, which appeared at the Driskell Center and Yale University Art Gallery and was reviewed in the New York Times. As a proponent of object-based study and public history, Walz has over 25 years of experience in art museums, including more than a decade of service at the National Gallery of Art, Washington. In 2016 he was appointed the Director of Curatorial Affairs and Curator of American Art at The Columbus Museum in Columbus, Georgia, Alma Thomas’s hometown. He co-curated the award-winning nationally traveling exhibition Alma W. Thomas: Everything Is Beautiful, which appeared at The Phillips Collection in 2021–2022.
About the Open Call Jurors
Nehemiah Dixon, III is the Senior Director of Programs and Community Engagement at The Phillips Collection, America’s first modern art museum located in Washington, DC. In this role he is responsible for the oversite and strategy of a robust and innovative community engagement plan, through the development and delivery of public programs, exhibitions, and commissions at both the Museum and The Phillips Collection’s satellite location (the Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus also known as THEARC), and the coordination of community engagement activities across DC by partnering with organizations such as the DC Public Library, The Nicholson Project, TASSC International. Washington Sculptors Group, and other local arts organizations and artists. Mr. Dixon is a Washington, DC native and member of Red Dirt Studio in Mt Rainier MD. as an artist whose work focuses on historical and contemporary social justice issues. He is a member of the DC Public Library Arts Advisory.
Adria Jones-Wright is a creative entrepreneur with a unique ability to merge artistry and functionality, as an artist, art educator, and interior designer. Her roots in the art world run deep, nurtured by a family of art collectors and patrons of the arts community. From the time of her youth, Jones-Wright has forged close friendships with artists and has contributed to many collaborative works. Beyond Jones-Wright's artistic pursuits, she has dedicated her time to various volunteer and philanthropic causes. She is passionate about her community, nurturing creative minds and artistic expression. Jones-Wright has a degree in psychology which informs her approach to seamlessly weaving the complexities of human emotion into her art. She is a member of the DC Public Library Arts Advisory.
Susan Talley has lived in Washington, D.C. since 1971. She spent her career working for the US Department of Education, Office of Research. Her main focus was research on how to improve education for urban schools. Influenced by her parents, Talley has been interested in art since she was a teen. In 1977 Talley saw works by Alma Thomas during a visit to the DC Franz Bader Gallery. This was the beginning of her love for Alma Thomas’s artwork and her admiration for Alma Thomas’ 35 years of teaching art to teens at Shaw Junior High School. She is a member of the DC Public Library Arts Advisory.
Charles Thomas Lewis is the great-nephew of Alma Thomas and the only living member of her close family. A resident of Washington, D.C. and a federal employee, Lewis has been intimately involved with preserving and honoring his great-aunt’s legacy, including donations of archival materials to the Archives of American Art and the DC Public Library.
Lindsey D. Vance, ATR-BC, LPC, is an interdisciplinary artist, art therapist, licensed professional counselor, arts advocate, arts administrator, and educator. As Manager of Arts Innovation for DC Public Schools, Vance develops and supports PK-12 Visual and Digital Media Arts Curriculum for DCPS teachers, concentrating on the role of trauma and social emotional learning in the classroom and on art within society and contemporary art movements. Lindsey also works as an adjunct professor at The George Washington University and Bowie State University, as well as a Grief Psychotherapist for the Wendt Center for Loss and Healing. Vance holds a master’s degree in art therapy with an emphasis in trauma counseling.
This exhibit is a partnership between DC Public Library and DC Public Schools Arts Division with support from the DC Public Library Foundation.