Growing up in the Jim Crow-era Southern U.S., young Alma Thomas and her siblings weren’t allowed to go to the “white school” nearby; they couldn’t visit the museums or library, but they surrounded themselves with joy, art, and culture. Alma Thomas’s mother designed dresses; her aunts painted; Alma used the red clay near a stream to create bowls and cups. Her parents created a salon in their home, inviting teachers to talk about “people and places around the world, famous stories, and ways of thinking”. And when Alma and her family joined The Great Migration and left Georgia for Washington, DC, Alma was finally able to attend school, graduating from college where she studied art. While DC was still segregated, Alma was determined to bring art to the people in her neighborhood; she taught art at her local school; taught children to make marionettes and perform their own plays at her home; set up an art gallery: the city’s first gallery in a school. When she retired, she went on to create her own art, becoming the first solo show by a Black woman on display at The Whitney Museum in New York City and, posthumously, the first Black woman to have artwork on display in the White House. Ablaze with Color is a gorgeous, vibrant picture book biography of a teacher, an artist, an activist that worked to bring art to everyone. Loveis Wise’s illustrations are stunning, alive with color and movement, inspired by Alma Thomas’s bright palette. Jeanne Walker Harvey brings Alma Thomas’s story to life, describing the natural world that influenced Thomas’s work and using straightforward storytelling to educate her readers. Back matter includes a timeline of Alma Thomas’s life, sources, notes, and references.
There are a wealth of online resources for those who want to learn more about Alma Thomas. Visit The Smithsonian American Art Museum’s page on the artist; The Phillips Collection’s page on their Alma Thomas exhibit, Everything is Beautiful; and ArtNews’s article on Alma Thomas’s importance in art. TeachersPayTeachers has several good activities on the artist, including a coloring sheet from Artful Ideas; a presentation from The Creative Crayon, and an abstract mosaic activity from LessonZest. Finally, don’t forget to visit Jeanne Walker Harvey’s website for more resources!
Ablaze with Color has starred reviews from Booklist, School Library Journal, and The Horn Book.
Jeanne Walker Harvey has had many jobs, ranging from working as a roller coaster ride operator to an attorney for high-tech companies to a writer of magazine articles to a teacher of Language Arts and writing workshops at a public middle school. She has also been a longtime docent at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Just like Alma Thomas, Jeanne believes that art brings us joy. Her other picture books include Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines and My Hands Sing the Blues: Romare Bearden’s Childhood Journey. Jeanne studied literature and psychology at Stanford University. She lives in Northern California. Visit her online at www.jeanneharvey.com.
Loveis Wise is a nonbinary illustrator and designer from Washington, DC, now based in Los Angeles. They have collaborated and imagined with clients such as the New Yorker, the New York Times, HarperCollins, Google, Disney Hyperion, and Adobe, to name a few. Their work often speaks to themes of joy, mindfulness, and liberation. For more information visit: loveiswise.com.