ALMA THOMAS, “White Daisies Rhapsody,” 1973 (acrylic on canvas, 38 x 50 inches / 96.5 x 127.0 cm). | Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Loreine Wuorinen and Mrs. Elizabeth Johnson, 1981.135

 

WHITE DAISIES RHAPSODY (1973) by Alma Thomas is a lovely example of the late artist’s nature-inspired, abstract paintings. Her signature dabs of white paint, arranged in an energetic mosaic pattern, dance around the canvas with a springtime palette of citron and aquamarine serving as a ground. The painting is displayed prominently in the White House in Vice President Kamala Harris’s West Wing office.

When Harris welcomed young Aideen to her office on April 25, for Take Your Child to Work Day, she posted a brief video on Instagram capturing the interaction with the future political staffer. In the video, Aideen checks the vice president’s schedule and tries out her desk chair.

“White Daisies Rhapsody” is shown hanging on the wall behind the desk. The painting has been on loan from the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) since 2021. The museum owns 29 works by Thomas, the largest body of work by the artist of any public collection.

Known for exuberant, color-rich abstract paintings, Thomas was a pioneer on multiple fronts. Born in Columbus, Ga., she spent most of her life in Washington, D.C., where she was the first student to earn a degree from Howard University’s newly formed art department in 1924. (Harris is also a graduate of the HBCU.) After teaching public school for nearly four decades, Thomas dedicated herself full time to her artistic practice. Late in life, at the age of 80, Thomas gained national recognition when she was the first Black female artist to have a solo show at the Whitney Museum of American Art (1972) in New York.

Paintings by Thomas first appeared in the White House during the Obama Administration. As their time in the White House was winding down, Architectural Digest published a feature on the Obama’s experience in the White House. The article appeared in the December 2016 issue and emphasized that they lived with art throughout their home.

Paintings by Alma Thomas first appeared in the White House during the Obama Administration.

 


Spotted at the White House: ALMA THOMAS “White Daisies Rhapsody” (1973). | Posted April 28, 2024 @vp on Instagram

 

The first family had a turntable and speakers in the West Hall of their private living quarters with a small collection of albums by the likes of Earth, Wind & Fire and Al Green stacked nearby. “Sky Light” (1973) by Thomas was on view above the musical setup. The cobalt blue, rhythmic-patterned painting was on loan from the collection of the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

More prominently, the White House acquired “Resurrection” (1966) by Thomas in 2014. The painting is defined by a vibrant pattern of concentric circles in spectrum of colors ranging from green to blue, plum, scarlet, and orange surrounded by a deep ring of sunny marigold. First Lady Michelle Obama unveiled the painting during Black History Month in February 2015, installing the work in the newly refurbished Family Dining Room (once known as the Old Family Dining Room).

Located on the State Floor of the White House, the Family Dining Room is adjacent to the State Dining Room and across the floor from the East Room, where many of the President’s public events and ceremonies occur. “Resurrection” became the first artwork by an African American woman to hang in the public spaces of the White House and enter the permanent collection.

A solo exhibition of Thomas is currently on view at SAAM through Aug. 4. “Composing Color: Paintings by Alma Thomas” is organized according to some of the Thomas’s favorite themes: Space, Earth, and Music. The show features 17 paintings produced between 1959 to 1978, the artist’s most prolific period. Included among the works is “Resurrection,” on loan from the White House. The iconic painting is the first work visitors see as they enter the exhibition. CT

 

FIND MORE about how Vice President Kamala Harris has made her West Wing office her own with art and family photos in the San Francisco Chronicle

FIND MORE about Alma Thomas (1891-1978) and her artwork on the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s website

FIND MORE about the White House art collection on the website of the White House Historical Association

 

BOOKSHELF
“Alma Thomas: Everything is Beautiful” documents a traveling exhibition that explored the full spectrum of Alma Thomas’s creativity, from her paintings and marionettes to fashion and gardening. “Alma Thomas” was published on the occasion of an exhibition organized by the Tang Teaching Museum and Studio Museum in Harlem in 2016. “Alma Thomas Resurrection” accompanied a 2019 exhibition at Mnuchin Gallery in New York City. Earlier publications include “Alma W. Thomas: A Retrospective of the Paintings,” which coincided with the traveling exhibition organized by the Fort Wayne Museum of Art (1998-2000) and “A Life in Art: Alma W. Thomas, 1891-1978,” was published on the occasion of a Smithsonian exhibition (1981–1982). Also consider, the children’s book “Ablaze with Color: A Story of Painter Alma Thomas.”

 

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