Howard Thomas (1889 - 1971)

Birth date: 3/30/1899 Death date: 11/1/1971  
Birth location: Mount Pleasant, Ohio Death location: Chapel Hill, North Carolina  
Media: Graphic Art , Painting Web site:
Comprehensive (file rating) - Major Wisconsin artist file that includes comprehensive documentation on artist's life that can be researched on site at MWA.


Howard Thomas
Born 1899 in Mount Pleasant, Ohio
Died 1971 in North Carolina
Quaker-born in Ohio, Thomas trained in the Midwest at Ohio State University and the Chicago Art Institute. He taught in the Art Department of the Milwaukee State Teachers College (now University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) where he became good friends with Carl Holty, Edward Boerner, Robert von Neumann and Gustave Moeller.

Thomas was a painter of the American scene from the beginning of his career to the mid 1940s.  He had been investigating cubism during the mid-to-late 1930s. Thomas made his first trip to the South for a speaking engagement in 1941 and the red earth around Asheville, North Carolina interested him. Thus began his use of earth as a pigment source. In the tradition of old masters, he used mortar and pestle to mix his pigments. Thomas sought natural materials from wherever he traveled around the world and kept a concise diary with painting codes of the gritty earth pigments and dense earth colors for his paintings.  

After 1942, Thomas worked permanently in the South. He was an enthusiastic teacher at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro (1942-43), Agnes Scott College, Decatur, Georgia (1943-45) and the University of Georgia where he arranged for Carl Holty, an authority on modern painting, to become artist-in-residence. The “transformation” in Thomas’ painting was the result of interaction with Holty. His progression from regionalist imagery of the 1930s to abstract imagery of the 1950s was done with great deliberation. Thomas gradually eliminated the ideas of foreground and background. Thomas consistently used music as an impetus for his painting. He placed the surface to be painted on the floor and worked with sweeping rhythmic movements to Bach, Vivaldi or Haydn.

Although Thomas painted in the South after 1942, his Milwaukee association had shaped the most important concepts of his intellectual and artistic maturation, especially his exceptional visual memory. He was also a member of the Wisconsin Painters & Sculptors.

Selected One-Person Exhibitions

1932, 39 Milwaukee Art Institute, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
1946  University of Georgia Gallery, Athens, Georgia: Howard and Mary Thomas 
Duveen-Graham Gallery, New York: Howard Thomas 
Kemper Gallery of the Art Institute of Kansas City, Missouri: Howard Thomas 
The High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia: Howard Thomas A Retrospective Exhibition
1968  Wright Art Center, Beloit, Wisconsin: Howard Thomas: A Retrospective Exhibition 
1968 Ripon College, Ripon, Wisconsin: Howard Tomas: A Retrospective Exhibition
1972  University of Iowa Museum, Iowa City, Iowa: Howard Thomas: The Later Paintings 1958-1971 
1973  North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, North Carolina: Howard Thomas: The Later Paintings 1958-1971
1973 Georgia Museum of Art, Athens, Georgia: Howard Thomas: The Later Paintings, 1958-71
1976 Heath Gallery, Atlanta, Georgia: Howard Thomas / The Transitional Works, 1950-1954

Selected Group Exhibitions

Chicago Art Institute, Chicago, Illinois: 28th Annual Exhibition of the Art Students League
1927  Milwaukee Art Institute, Milwaukee, Wisconsin: 14th Annual Wisconsin Painters and Sculptors Exhibition 
1935  Chicago Art Institute, Chicago, Illinois: 39th Annual Artists of Chicago and Vicinity 
1936 International Building, Rockfeller Center, New York: 1st National Exhibition of American Art 
1945  Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.: 19th Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Oil Paintings 
1946  High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia: 1st Southeastern Annual Exhibition 
1950,52  Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 
1952 Brooklyn Museum, New York: 6th National Print Annual Exhibition
1952 Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati, Ohio: 2nd International Color Lithograph Exhibition
1952 Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: American Watercolors, Drawings and Prints
1955 Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio: 20th Annual Midyear Show
1955-60 Whitney Museum of American Art, New York: 1955 Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American Art
1960 Whitney Museum Of American Art, New York: Business Buys American Art
1961 Nelson Gallery and Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Centennial Exhibition American Association of Land Grant Colleges and Universities
1963-6 Hunter Museum of Art, Chattanooga, Tennessee: 3rd Hunter Annual
1964  M. Knoedler & Co., New York: Art Across America Exhibition
1972 University of Iowa Museum, Iowa City, Iowa: Very Small Paintings / Objects / Works on Paper and Crafts.

Selected Awards

1930 Milwaukee Journal Purchase Prize for Women of Prague
Milwaukee Art Institute Medal and Purchase Award for In Hay Market Square
1941 Honorable Mention for Yellow House 
Third Purchase Prize for Reidsville 
Second Purchase Award for White House and Chickens 

Special Mention for Frosty Morning and Special Honorable Mention for Sunflowers with Cherries

1963  Special Merit Award for July 4
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