Alma Thomas Painting Features in The White House Bedecked for 2021 Holidays

Vermeil Room, White House, “Gift of the Visual Arts,” 2021 Holiday Decorations
White House

First Lady Jill Biden unveiled the 2021 White House holiday decorations on Monday with the theme, “Gifts from the Heart.” Decor was chosen to reflect values that “tie together the heart strings of our lives,” explained Biden, including peace and unity, the arts and learning, nature and gratitude, and more.

Rooms were decorated thematically by more than 100 volunteers over a week, with approximately 6,000 feet of ribbon, 300 candles, 10,000 ornaments and over 78,750 holiday lights.

The White House website states that the theme is meant to evoke “acts of kindness and experiences that lifted our spirits this year and throughout the pandemic.”

The Vermeil (French for “gilded silver”) Room represents the “Gift of the Visual Arts” with a Christmas tree adorned with mulitcolored ornaments to note the diversity of American artists. On display is a portrait of White House Historical Association founder and former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and a vibrant abstract painting by Alma Thomas (1891-1978) on an easel.

Acquired for the White House Collection under the Obama administration, and initially hung in the Old Family Dining Room, Thomas’s Resurrection, 1966, is the first work by a female African-American artist to enter the collection.

Red Room, White House, “Gift of the Performing Arts,” 2021 Holiday Decorations.
White House

Thomas is currently being celebrated at cultural and educational institutions across Washington, DC, with a variety of programs and events, including a major exhibition at The Phillips Collection.

With beginnings in semi-rural Georgia and later deep ties in Washington, DC, Thomas’s legacy includes groundbreaking moments. She was the first graduate of Howard University’s art department in 1924, the first Black woman to have a solo show at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art in 1972, and the first Black woman to have a work featured in the White House collection in 2015. 

The acrylic and graphite on canvas painting titled Resurrection, by Alma Thomas, 1966. White House Collection/White House Historical Association

The major retrospective at The Phillips, which coincides with what would have been Thomas’s 130th birthday, features over 150 artworks as well as historical documents from public and private US museums and collections, offering an inspiring look at Thomas’s rich and beautiful life.

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