Creativity, trying new things, and starting over are things that you can always find on this blog. I like to highlight people who’ve started over after midlife as an example of what is possible. Here are two different women and how they started over as artists.
Alma Thomas started her life in Georgia in 1891. Although she wasn’t allowed in museums in Georgia, her creativity found a way out. She used clay from the river behind her house to make small sculptures and plates and she also created puppets.
In 1907 her family moved to Washington DC to escape racial violence in Georgia and to open up additional educational opportunities for their children. She studied art in high school and then kindergarten education at the Miner Normal School. In 1924 she earned a BS in Fine Arts from Howard University. She was the first African-American woman to earn this degree.
In 1924, Alma started teaching at Shaw Junior High School and stayed there until she retired in 1960. While teaching, she continued studying and received a Masters’s in Art Education from the Teacher’s College of Columbia University. At 59 she started taking art classes at the American University and continued for ten years.
In her late 60s, after retiring from teaching, she became a professional artist when she began creating Color Field paintings. At the age of 82, she was the first African-American female artist to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. In 2014, her piece Resurrection was acquired for the White House collection. It was the first piece of art by an African-American woman to be acquired for the White House permanent collection.
Even now, her work can be seen in Alma W. Thomas: Everything is Beautiful, an exhibition that will next be seen in spring 2022 at the Frist Art Museum in Nashville.
For someone more contemporary, let’s learn about Janet Watkins who retired after 30 years in banking and was looking for a hobby to occupy her time. When a local church put up a sign for a pottery class, she decided to give it a try. And after one hour, she was hooked.
She usually works with brown earthenware, red clay, and porcelain to create sculptures and unique gardening art. She incorporates discarded items like recycled telephone wire, screws, bolts, buttons, and even scrap wood and metal parts. She finds inspiration in the facial features of people she meets.
Janet still creates her art out of the same church, with the same group of women where it all began. You can see her work on her Instagram.
Two different women. Two different paths to their art careers. But both focused on their art after retirement. In Alma’s case, it was an extension of something she was doing all of her life. But in Janet’s case, it was something she never tried before.
The second half of life. Retirement. Call it whatever you want, but don’t call it the end. It’s the beginning of new things. You can focus on something you’ve always wanted to do or try something you’ve never done before. But try something. If it doesn’t work, try something else.