The Young Artists Gallery at Hill Center is showing works created by students at J.O. Wilson Elementary School that were inspired by Alma Woodsey Thomas, a pioneering DC artist and educator. Thomas was the first Black woman to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the first Black woman to have work acquired by the White House. She was also the first graduate of Howard University’s art department and a DC public middle school teacher for 38 years.
An abstract expressionist, Thomas avoided political or social commentary, once saying, “Through color, I have sought to concentrate on beauty and happiness, rather than on man’s inhumanity to man.”
In honor of Black History Month in February and Women’s History Month in March, young artists at J.O. Wilson Elementary School studied Thomas’s color field paintings. Under the guidance of teachers Karen Kelly and Elizabeth Wyrsch-Ba, the artists used construction paper tesserae to create mosaics achieving a similar effect to the paintings. This introduced the students to both the history of mosaics and an understanding of what is meant by “expressionist” art.
The students made the connection. Leena, in pre-K3, observed that she “made it with little pieces of paper like bricks.” And Landyn, in second grade, reported that “I made this by choosing colors that work together and then I tore it up. We tore it up because it looks like Alma’s brush strokes, that’s why we didn’t cut it.”
Pre-K classes worked on a cherry-blossom-themed group project, while older students produced individual works.
A selection of these works is on view in the Young Artists Gallery on the ground floor at Hill Center, 921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, through mid-June. You can also go to a virtual gallery on the Hill Center website: www.hillcenterdc.org/artist/young-artists-gallery-everything-is-beautiful/.
Kelly invites you to see the show and “celebrate the amazing artists at J.O. Wilson and honor one of our very own local artists, Alma Thomas.”