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"Let This World Be Beautiful: Celebrations the Life and Work of Alma Thomas" Opens February 17

As part of Black History Month celebrating "African Americans and the Arts," the DC Public Library is opening an exhibit dedicated to local artistic luminary Alma W. Thomas. "Let This World Be Beautiful: Celebrating the Life and Art of Alma Thomas" will be displayed at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library starting February 17.

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.

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.

The "Let This World Be Beautiful" exhibition explores Thomas's life as an educator, producer and painter in two parts. The title 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's first part, "Alma W. Thomas: Art, Education, Performance," highlights colorful watercolor studies generously donated to the DC Public Library by Susan and Dit Talley. While selections from the Library's Thomas collection are continually displayed in the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library on a rotating basis, nine studies by Thomas will be on display for this exhibition. In addition, archival photos and never-before-exhibited marionettes, created by Thomas and used in her teaching, highlight how curious Thomas was about the world, what her art studio was like, and how she taught her students will be shown. This section of the exhibit is curated by Jonathan Frederick Walz, who also co-curated the award-winning nationally traveling exhibition "Alma W. Thomas: Everything Is Beautiful," which appeared at The Phillips Collection in 2021–2022.

The exhibition's second part, "Teachers from DC Public Schools Inspired by Alma Thomas," will showcase the artistic talents of the next generation of District-based artist-educators. A juried show organized in partnership with DC Public Schools Arts Division will feature teachers currently employed by DC Public Schools whose work relates to Thomas' life or work. The exhibition features artwork by 28 DC Public School teachers selected by partners and members from the DC Public Library's Arts Advisory: Nehemiah Dixon from The Phillips Collection; Susan Talley and Adria Jones Wright from the DC Public Library Arts Advisory Council; Charles Thomas Lewis, Alma W. Thomas' great-nephew; and Lindsey Vance of DCPS Arts.

This exhibit is a partnership between the DC Public Library and the DC Public Schools Arts Division with support from the DC Public Library Foundation. For more information, visit

Audiences: All Ages