Object Lesson: Dogwood Display II by Alma W. Thomas

Alma W. Thomas (1891–1978), Dogwood Display II, 1972, Acrylic on canvas, Gift of Elizabeth R. French, 2000.23 © Alma Thomas

“I say everyone on earth should take note of the spring, coming back every year, blooming and gorgeous.” —Alma W. Thomas

In Alma Thomas’s painting Dogwood Display II, a rainbow of color ripples beneath streaks of white paint, recalling the bursting blossoms of a dogwood tree, or white clouds shimmering in the sky on a sunny spring day. 

Often inspired by sources close to home—especially the flowers in her garden—Thomas created a style of abstract painting entirely her own. A junior high school art teacher for more than thirty-five years, she only began devoting herself full time to painting after retiring in 1960. Twelve years later—at the age of 84—she became the first African American woman to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Painting in a time of cultural upheaval in the United States, Thomas held firm in her belief that art exists to elevate, inspire, and unite us all. For her, painting was a way to shine light on all of the good in the world, especially in times of great uncertainty. “Through color,” she said, “I have sought to concentrate on beauty and happiness, rather than on man’s inhumanity to man.”

Katie Pfohl, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art

NOMA is committed to uniting, inspiring, and engaging diverse communities and cultures through the arts — now more than ever. You can support NOMA’s staff during these uncertain times as they work hard to produce virtual content to keep our community connected, care for our permanent collection during the museum’s closure, and prepare to reopen our doors.