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Peter Schjeldahl, writing in The New Yorker, says that Alma Thomas was a late-blooming painter — indeed, many of Thomas’s best work came toward the end of her incredible career. Previously an underappreciated artist, Schjeldahl says Thomas would not be recognized as a professional painter until she retired from teaching in 1960. “A small but wondrous Alma Thomas retrospective at the Studio Museum in Harlem put me in mind of a desert plant that spends all year as an innocent cactus and then, in the middle of the night, blooms,” Schjeldahl writes. “Thomas, who died in 1978, at the age of eighty-six, was a junior-high-school art teacher in Washington, D.C., whose own paintings were modernist and sophisticated but of no special note until she retired from teaching, in 1960, and took up color-intensive abstraction.”

The famed painter originally “enrolled at Howard University as a home-economics student, but gravitated to the art department, newly founded by the black Impressionist painter James V. Herring, and became the school’s first graduate in fine arts,” Schjeldahl writes. (Later, Thomas would also become the first black woman to have a solo at the Whitney Museum in New York City.) “The uncompleted arc of her talent makes her a perennial artist’s artist, consulted by young abstract painters even now. Thomas didn’t change art history, but she gave it a twist that merits attention, respect, and something very like love.”

Source: The New Yorker

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