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Recent Acquisitions: Alma Woodsey Thomas, Wind Dancing with Spring Flowers, 1969

Alma Woodsey Thomas, Wind Dancing with Spring Flowers, 1969, acrylic on canvas. Purchased through a gift by exchange from Evelyn A. and William B. Jaffe, Class of 1964H; 2016.5. Photo courtesy of Connersmith Gallery, Washington, D.C.

Alma Woodsey Thomas, Wind Dancing with Spring Flowers, 1969, acrylic on canvas. Purchased through a gift by exchange from Evelyn A. and William B. Jaffe, Class of 1964H; 2016.5. Photo courtesy of Connersmith Gallery, Washington, D.C.

Hood Quarterly, spring/summer 2016

Alma Thomas (American, 1891–1978) based her paintings on nature. In the case of Wind Dancing with Spring Flowers, she was inspired by the circular formal gardens of Washington, D.C. Like the other Color Field painters in her city, including Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, Sam Gilliam, and Gene Davis, Thomas used the exuberance and power of color to carry the emotional content of her paintings. More than her colleagues, though, Thomas emphasized observation in her work—capturing the essence of what she saw while sharing her experience of seeing it through her art.

Thomas spent most of her career painting in the D.C. area and was especially drawn to visual themes she found in the city’s parks and gardens. Wind Dancing with Spring Flowers was based on the bright annual plants the city placed each spring in its many traffic circles. The scene is an imaginary bird’s-eye view looking down on concentric rings of flowers. Thomas’s goal was not naturalism but rather a gesture towards her response to what she was seeing—a visual approach to the poetic idea of allusion.

Her canvas is dominated by marks that are clearly handmade, emphasizing a very human presence. Most of her fellow Washington Color Field painters worked in a manner that de-emphasized the hand of the artist by pouring thin paint or painting careful geometric forms. Thomas relished vigorous brushstrokes and the uneven shapes they created. Her work stands out for the boldness of her colors, her marks, and her forms.

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