Alma Woodsey Thomas‘ paintings look like they’re a mosaic, from a distance, but in reality they’re paintings made of painted shapes. These painted shapes make up the abstract images she painted. Her paintings have names that reference what she was looking at or thinking of as she painted.

To make a work of art inspired by Alma Thomas, you could work with torn paper collage, an eggshell mosaic, or even paint! To begin, choose a subject matter, perhaps something you can see in your house or yard, and then simplify it, reduce it to its most basic form and colors. Choose the colors of paint or paper than you’ll work with.

Here’s a lesson plan from Blick that shows how to make a mosaic using ostrich eggs. Ostrich eggs may be a bit hard to come by, so here’s an idea. You can buy chicken’s eggs at the grocery store that have very thick shells, visibly thicker than the most common type of eggshells. The eggs with the thicker shells are, naturally, the most expensive ones. They’ll be labeled free-range, organic, things like that. As a bonus, the eggs also taste great!

Lesson plan: https://www.dickblick.com/lesson-plans/ostrich-eggshell-mosaic

Learn about Alma Woodsey Thomas, 1891-1978

Alma Thomas first started painting realistically, but in 1966, she exhibited her first abstract work, at the age of 75! She had been taking classes at Howard University and her professor encouraged her to try working in an abstract style.

Alma had worked as a teacher for 35 years, teaching art to junior high school students in Washington, D.C. After she retired, she was able to devote herself to her art full time and she developed the style she is known for today.

Two of her important bodies of work are her “Earth” paintings which were inspired by nature, and her “Space” paintings inspired by moon landings.

Some of her paintings look like they’re made out of little torn pieces of paper, don’t they? But they’re not, they’re paintings made with acrylic paint and sometimes, some India ink too.

You’ll notice that most of her paintings name a real thing, an eclipse, a specific type of flower. So she was doing abstract art, of the kind where she started from a real thing and then abstracted it, or simplified it. Often she simplified things down to primarily color.

In some of her paintings, you can sort of see what the painting is of, such as “Apollo 12 Splash Down,” painted in 1970. Other times, if she didn’t indicate to you, in the title of the work, what it’s a painting of, you might not know.

According to the <strong>National Museum of Women in the Arts</strong>, “Thomas became an important role model for women, African Americans, and older artists. She was the first African American woman to have a solo exhibition at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art, and she exhibited her paintings at the White House three times.

Learn more:   https://nmwa.org/explore/artist-profiles/alma-woodsey-thomas


You can see her work online and in person at the National Museum of Women in the Arts and the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture.  

During the presidency of Barak Obama, a painting by Alma Thomas hung in the White House!


A quote from the artist:

Here is something she wrote for an exhibition.

“Man’s highest aspirations come from nature. A world without color would seem dead. Color is life. Light is the mother of color. Light reveals to us the spirit and living soul of the world through colors.”

—Press Release, Columbus Museum of Arts and Sciences, 1982, for an exhibition entitled A Life in Art: Alma Thomas 1891–1978, Vertical File, Library, National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.


Part of this post was originally published on BeingBold.me on September 21, 2019. In that post, we go into more detail about what abstraction is. https://beingbold.me/alma-woodsey-thomas-african-american-abstract-artist


This is not a sponsored post. I’m sharing the links to Blick’s Art Lesson Plans because they have good, clear instructions. I wish I had time to come up with my own original art project for each artist, but why reinvent things when they’ve already done such a fine job?

Elaine Luther is the blogger and podcast co-host for Being Bold. As a kid, Elaine’s mom gave her the book “Girls are People Too,” sparking her interest in women’s rights and the untold stories of women. She is a writer and artist whose work has been published in national magazines and online. Her art has been shown in galleries nationwide and libraries across Chicagoland.