Thomas was the first graduate of Howard University’s newly formed art department in 1924. She taught art to children for thirty-five years, the whole time producing realistic paintings, which she exhibited in shows for black artists. Her works were respected but not acclaimed.
In the 1950s she studied painting at American University and became interested in color and abstract art. At the time Abstract Expressionism held sway in the art world with its emphasis on pure color and dynamic brushwork, as well as fields of unmodulated pure color. Thomas’s interest in color led her to choose Color Field painting, rather than works that represented her African American heritage.
Thomas was offered a one-person show at Howard University in 1966 when she was seventy-four years old. Instead of exhibiting her color field paintings with large, flat areas of color, she decided to exhibit paintings that were in a totally new style. She was fascinated by the leaves outside of her window and the way that sunlight coming through them created endless varieties of pattern and color. Her style of mosaic-like color fields was born, including works such as Breeze Rustling through Fall Flowers. Having started showing in her seventies, Thomas became one of the most exhibited African American artists.
Red Rose Cantata is another work in the Davis archive you should check out.
Who are your art history heroes?