Columbus Museum to Debut Alma Thomas Exhibition

Staff Report

Wednesday, May 18th, 2022

On May 21, The Columbus Museum will open Sand Unshaken: The Origin Story of Alma Thomas, an exclusive, historical exhibition that uses rare family artifacts to tell the story of one of the Chattahoochee Valley’s most famous and beloved artists. Sand Unshaken serves as an intriguing and informative opening act for Alma W. Thomas: Everything Is Beautiful, a collection of works that is set to come home to Columbus in July after stops in Norfolk, Washington, D.C. and Nashville.

Art enthusiasts across the world have come to know and love the vibrant and inspirational works of the Columbus native, but few are aware of Thomas’s complicated and surprising history of growing up in the Deep South in the decades following the Civil War. Sand Unshaken draws from the Thomas family archives in The Columbus Museum’s permanent collection to showcase the Thomas family’s life in Columbus through artifacts and family portraits. 

“Sand Unshaken reveals a far more complex story about Alma Thomas and her family than is usually told,” said Rebecca Bush, Curator of History and Exhibitions Manager at The Columbus Museum. “Thomas experienced the racial discrimination that affected all African Americans in the Deep South during Jim Crow, but her family’s unique social position and determination to build a Black middle class offered her more opportunities than most of her peers. This exhibition provides insight into how Thomas’s childhood and family legacy in Columbus shaped her lifelong creativity.”

Among the historic artifacts featured in Sand Unshaken are family portraits, books, musical instruments used by family members, furnishings from the Thomas home in the upper-middle-class Rose Hill community, and a locket purchased by Thomas’s grandfather for her grandmother while both were enslaved. 

Pieces included in the exhibition help to weave the story of the Thomases’ unusual life in Columbus. For example, Alma’s grandfather owned an expansive farm in the region and the juxtaposition of flower gardens and industrial landscapes near her home nurtured the young artist’s fascination with color. Her parents’ entrepreneurship and success as an in-demand dressmaker and Columbus’s first Black bar owner led to an elevated socioeconomic status, exposing the budding artist to civic organizations that helped build an understanding of community.