Now others can contribute to Amos fund for purchasing African-American art

Columbus Museum announces the Alma Thomas Society for art acquisitions and programs

Columbus native Alma Thomas was an expressionist painter and educator who was the first African-American woman to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Her painting "Resurrection" currently hangs in a room in the east wing
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Columbus native Alma Thomas was an expressionist painter and educator who was the first African-American woman to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Her painting "Resurrection" currently hangs in a room in the east wing

Three years ago, Aflac CEO Dan Amos and his wife, Kathelen, donated $100,000 to The Columbus Museum for the purchase of art by emerging and established black artists.

Now, the museum is taking steps to leverage that investment by expanding its donor base.

On Tuesday, the museum held a news conference to announce the formation of the Alma Thomas Society, a dues-paying collection group that will be directly involved in the museum’s selection of works by black artists. The society is named after Alma Thomas, a famous Columbus-born black expressionist painter and art educator.

In 1972, Thomas - now deceased - became the first black woman to have her artwork displayed at a major museum with an exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. Her work also was displayed at the White House during the Obama years, and at least one of her paintings remains there as part of a permanent collection.

“The Alma Thomas Society we’re establishing so that we can continue with the generosity of Kathelen and Dan Amos in establishing a fund for acquiring African-American art, specifically,” said Columbus Museum Director Marianne Richter. “... This will be a support group - since there was a finite amount in the contribution that they made - so that we can continue it ideally in perpetuity. ... We will focus, particularly with that fund, on emerging African American artists and artists that perhaps have flown under the radar for many people in the past.”

The local Alma Thomas Society will hold its inaugural event Sept. 19 with a lecture and book signing by Columbus native Amy Sherald, a well-known artist and winner of the National Portrait Gallery’s 2016 Outwin-Boochever Portrait Competition, which had more than 2,500 entries. The event, which will be held 5:30 to 7:30 at the museum, is free and open to the public. However, seats are limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis, according to news release issued by the museum.

Sherald graduated from St. Anne Pacelli High School and earned a bachelor’s degree from Clark-Atlanta University. She earned her master’s in fine arts at the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2004.

“She is known for painting skin tones in grays, challenging our conception of color representing race,” according to the news release.

Society membership is $500 annually in addition to any level of membership at The Columbus Museum, said Mercedes Parham, the museum’s marketing and media manager. Eighty percent of the dues will go directly to the Fund for African American Art, established by the Amoses, and 20 percent will support programming for the new society.

Members will help select artwork for the museum at an annual acquisition event, where they will vote on pieces that can be purchased.

Richter said information about the society is available on the museum’s website and in its membership brochure. The organization also has sent mailings to supporters and others in the community.

In addition to announcing the society, museum representatives also unveiled three pieces already purchased with the money donated by the Amoses. They are Amy Sherald’s “What’s different about Alice is that she has the most incisive way of telling the truth,” 2017; Reginald Gammon’s “Mothers,” 1970; and Beverly Buchanan’s “Sculpture House,” 2011.

In a written statement, Dan and Kathelen Amos said: “The first acquisitions made from this fund are exciting additions. The broadening and deepening of our collection in the area of work by African American artists through the support of the members of the Alma Thomas Society is good for our museum, our audiences and our community.

“We want visitors to The Columbus Museum, as they have for over 60 years, to be inspired by what they see there, and for young visitors to have the opportunity to see works from artists of a wide range of backgrounds and ethnicities and work in a variety of mediums.”

To RSVP for the Amy Sherald event, contact Mary Goff at 706-748-2562, ext. 210, or mgoff@columbusmuseum.com by Sept. 12.

Alva James-Johnson: 706-571-8521, @amjreporter