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Black History Artist: Alma Woodsey Thomas

This abstract art lesson let my students choose which painting format they wanted to try out — a circular or an vertical stripe one.

Alma Woodsey Thomas (1891 – 1978) was an African-American artist and teacher who lived and worked in Washington, D.C., and is now recognized as a major American painter of the 20th century.

Thomas is best known for her abstract paintings that she created after her retirement from a 35-year career teaching art at Washington’s Shaw Junior High School. Teaching allowed her to support herself while pursuing her own painting part-time.

Thomas’s early art was realistic, though her Howard professor James V. Herring and peer Loïs Mailou Jones challenged her to experiment with abstraction. When she retired from teaching and was able to concentrate on art full-time, Thomas finally developed her signature style. She debuted her abstract work in an exhibition at Howard 1966, at the age of 75.

You can read more about her Alma’s life story on the National Museum of Women in the Arts website.


  • Multimedia paper
  • Liquid tempera paint
  • Circle stencil


  1. If students chose to try Ms. Woodsey’s circle painting, they had a stencil to first trace in pencil.
  2. The circle was painted solid with tempera paint.
  3. Dashed lines were painted around the circle until the paper was full.
  4. If students wanted to do the vertical painting, they simply painted dashed lines, free form style.
A lovely student sample


Now it’s easy to make a classroom mural to celebrate the creative work of African American artist Lois Mailou Jones.

All you need to do is purchase a Lois Mailou Jones Mural template from my PDF Shop, have each student color a page, and then tape or glue it back together according to included directions.

It makes a special work of art for your classroom, and because everyone takes part, a collaborative experience as well.

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