The Chrysler Museum to showcase the extraordinary work of Alma Thomas in 2021

Alma Thomas’ (1891-1978) artistic journey took her from Columbus, Georgia, to international recognition. Alma W. Thomas: Everything Is Beautiful will offer a comprehensive overview of her extraordinary career with more than 100 works, including her rarely seen marionettes and beloved abstract paintings. The exhibition will debut at the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia, July 9-Oct. 3, 2021. It will visit The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., and The Frist Art Museum in Nashville, Tennessee, before closing at The Columbus Museum in Columbus, Georgia, in summer 2022. The exhibition is co-organized by the Chrysler Museum of Art and The Columbus Museum.

Alama Thomas Chrysler Museum

“Alma Thomas had a multi-faceted career, and partnering with The Columbus Museum, located in Thomas’ hometown, allows us to better explore her work. The Columbus Museum’s deep connection to Thomas’ life and the generosity of lenders public and private across the country have made this groundbreaking exhibition possible,” said Erik Neil, the Chrysler Museum’s director.    

Alma W. Thomas: Everything Is Beautiful will demonstrate how Thomas’ artistic practices extended to every facet of her life – from community service and teaching to gardening and dress. Unlike a traditional biography, the exhibition will be organized around multiple themes from Thomas’ life and career. These themes include the context of her Washington Color School cohort, the creative communities connected to her time at Howard University and peers who protested museums that failed to represent artists of color.

“The Columbus Museum’s holdings include extensive archival material and works of art by Alma Thomas that the artist’s family, notably her sister Maurice Thomas, generously donated. We are excited to work with the Chrysler Museum of Art to share them with a broader public through Alma W. Thomas: Everything Is Beautiful. By drawing on this collection of material from the artist’s long career, we will offer a new, comprehensive look at her life and impact,” said Marianne Richter, the director of The Columbus Museum.

Alma W. Thomas (American, 1891–1978), Air View of a Spring Nursery, 1966. Acrylic on canvas.The Columbus Museum purchase and gift of the National Association of Negro Business Women, and the Artist, G.1979.53

The exhibition is co-curated by Seth Feman, Ph.D., the Chrysler’s deputy director for art and interpretation and curator of photography, and Jonathan Frederick Walz, Ph.D., director of curatorial affairs and curator of American art at The Columbus Museum. Everything Is Beautiful will include a wide range of artworks and archival materials. These elements will reveal Thomas’ complex and deliberate artistic existence before, during and after the years of her mature output and career-making solo show at the Whitney Museum in 1972. She was the first African American woman to have a retrospective at the famed New York institution.

Alma Thomas’ fame grows

“Since her passing in 1978, several exhibitions have highlighted the extraordinary paintings Thomas made in the last 10 or 15 years of her life. This exhibition offers a much broader view,” Feman said. “It demonstrates how her enduring interest in painting as well as gardening, music, theater, fashion, teaching and community service complemented and reinforced every facet of her creative work.”

With the addition of Thomas’ Resurrection to the White House Collection in 2015, acquisitions by notable public institutions – including the Museum of Modern Art and the National Museum of African American History and Culture – and a two-venue exhibition at the Tang Museum and The Studio Museum in Harlem in 2016, the time is right to explore Alma Thomas’ life and legacy.

“Even with recent acquisitions and attention, Alma Thomas’ long career is most known for the late paintings from the mid-1960s and 1970s,” Walz said. “Everything Is Beautiful, which includes several works that were not included in previous exhibitions, offers the opportunity to present deeper insights into Thomas’ art and an inspiring look at how to lead a creative and beautiful life.”

The collaboration between the Chrysler Museum and The Columbus Museum started several years ago. The Columbus Museum’s deep holdings in Thomas-related archives and works strongly complement the Chrysler’s holdings in works made by mid-century Washington, D.C. artists.

The catalogue will offer a large collection of new scholarship by several contributors, including historian and artist Nell Painter on the perception of Thomas’ age; anthropologist Grey Gundaker on the artist’s garden; art historian Melanee Harvey on Thomas’ involvement with St. Luke’s Episcopal Church; art historian and Chrysler curator Kimberli Gant on Thomas’ international reception; Africana scholar Tiffany Barber on Thomas and performance; and many more. The catalogue will also include the first formal technical analysis of Thomas’ work completed by the conservators at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The eclectic approach to the catalogue follows from Thomas’ own disregard for silos, borders and other arbitrary boundaries, echoing the artist’s insistence on collaboration and interdisciplinarity.

ABOUT THE CHRYSLER MUSEUM OF ART

The Chrysler Museum of Art is one of America’s most distinguished mid-sized art museums, with a nationally recognized collection of more than 30,000 objects, including one of the great glass collections in America. The core of the Chrysler’s collection comes from Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., an avid art collector who donated thousands of objects from his private collection to the Museum.

The Museum has growing collections in many areas and mounts an ambitious schedule of visiting exhibitions and educational programs each season. The Chrysler has also been recognized nationally for its unique commitment to hospitality with its innovative gallery host program.

The Perry Glass Studio is a state-of-the-art facility on the Museum’s campus. The studio offers programming for aspiring and master artists alike in a variety of processes including glassblowing, fusing, flameworking, coldworking and neon. 

In addition, the Chrysler Museum of Art administers the Moses Myers House, a historic house in downtown Norfolk, as well as the Jean Outland Chrysler Library. For more information on the Chrysler Museum of Art, visit chrysler.org.

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