|Biography from The Columbus Museum of Art, Georgia:|
|Howard Wilber Thomas, painter, printmaker, and educator, began studying
art in 1919 at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In
1930, after several years of teaching high school, he began teaching at
Milwaukee State Teachers College. He also directed the Milwaukee
Handicraft Program sponsored by the Works Progress Administration in
the 1930s. |
Thomas made his first visit to the South in 1941 and never left.
In 1942 he became chair of the art department of the College for Women,
University of North Carolina, Greensboro. Soon after, he
relocated to Decatur, Georgia, to teach at Agnes Scott College.
In 1945 he joined the faculty of the art department of the University
of Georgia, where he remained until retiring in 1965.
Thomas kept detailed sketchbooks that date from his earliest student
years until his death. Like many painters who travel, he used
these sketchbooks as diaries in which he described the scenes of the
city and countryside he visited. All entries were dated and
enlivened by his comments. When he arrived in the South, Thomas
concentrated mostly on the everyday life of African Americans, filling
sketchbooks with drawings and descriptions of rural areas around
Greensboro and elsewhere.
After a trip to Selma, Alabama, his notes include “cotton fields in
bloom” and “tobacco stripped up until only the top leaves were left to
ripen.” Sketches from a trip to Athens, Georgia, include street
scenes and mill houses in black communities. Thomas became very
absorbed in these working-class American environments, noting shapes
and color combinations: “red turban,” “pink dress,” and “gray coat.”
Thomas exhibited extensively throughout his career and won many honors
and prizes, including invitations to exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum
of Art in 1950 and the Annual Exhibition of Contemporary Art at the
Whitney Museum in 1958. His later painting technique, which
involved the use of natural earth pigments, was documented in a film, Earth Red, Howard Thomas Paints a Gouache, produced in 1964 with his wife, artist Anne Wall Thomas, and his colleague, James Herbert.
Submited by Staff, Columbus Museum
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