Iris, Tulips, Jonquils, and Crocuses

A few years ago, my fifth grade gifted and talented students completed a unique research project.  Specifically, we sent letters to museum directors asking for input about one object, artifact, work of art, or a creative selection from their museum's collections.  The selection could be a personal favorite, possess significant cultural relevance, be a "best" example of its kind, tell a story, promote a new idea, or expose students to a new experience.

The purpose of the project was to provide resources for interdisciplinary learning, to present opportunities to think in new ways, and to enhance subject matter with activities that promote creativity and provide cultural relevance.  Most directors were eager to participate, and many provided supplemental information and resources.  Their thorough responses are best characterized by the words of one director, "Thank you for reaching out."

Below are the four questions we asked.  (Since some respondents have moved on to different institutions, I share only the museum position, instead of the person's name.)

  April's object of the month is from the National Museum of Women in the Arts.  The Assistant Educator answered our questions as follows.  (Excerpt) 


Selected ObjectIris, Tulips, Jonquils, and Crocuses, 1969 by Alma Woodsey Thomas (1891-1978)


1.  What information and essential understandings should students know about your selection?

Iris, Tulips, Jonquils, and Crocuses in an example of Alma Woodsey Thomas’ signature style.  Her abstract paintings exhibit intense colors, irregular patterns, and rectangular brushstrokes arranged like a mosaic (she called them “Alma’s Stripes”). She was inspired by nature, particularly what she saw as the wind blew through the holly tree outside her living room window. “Light reveals to us the spirit and living soul of the world through colors,” she said.

Thomas moved from Georgia to Washington, D. C. in 1907 with her family and spent the remainder of her life working as an educator and an artist.  In 1924, she became Howard University's first fine arts graduate and the first African American woman to hold a fine arts degree. For the next 35 years, after receiving a master’s in arts education at Teachers College, Columbia University, Thomas taught at Shaw Junior High School, where she also organized the School Arts League Project and established the public school system’s first art gallery.
Thomas retired from teaching in 1960 to focus on her art, but it wasn’t until after a major solo show at Howard University Gallery of Art in 1966, when she was in her 70s, that she developed her signature style of painting. Thomas became an important role model for women, African Americans, and older artists. She was the first African American woman to have a solo exhibition at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art, and she exhibited her paintings at the White House three times.


2. What questions would you ask students to stimulate curiosity and/or creative thinking about your selection?

  • What do you see in this painting?
  • What was the artist’s process? How do you think it was made?
  • How would you title this work of art?

3.  Do you have any suggestions for incorporating your selection into a specific subject?


Other than using this work in a fine arts class, Iris, Tulips, Jonquils, and Crocuses could be used in subjects across the board. Thomas and her family left Georgia to come to Washington, D.C. because of segregation in the south, and this coupled with her status as “first” in many areas could be integrated into a social studies/ history class. Thomas not only found inspiration in nature, but also from the space program—these two ideas could also be incorporated into a science, biology, or astronomy course.


4.  Are there other resources to help us learn more about your selection?


Contact Information

Debra Lemieux

If Then Creativity



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