Profile: Barbara Earl Thomas (1948-)

Barbara Earl Thomas is an American visual artist, writer, and arts administrator based in Seattle.

Early life

Thomas, a granddaughter of southern sharecroppers who migrated to the Pacific Northwest in the 1940s. Born in Seattle, WA in 1948, she is among the first generation in her family born outside of Texas and Louisiana. The artist recalls being surrounded by family members who constantly made things during her childhood. From the age of eight, she was constantly drawing and painting. She also copied images from newspapers and books, giving the results to her mother.


Thomas received her B.A. from the University of Washington in 1973. After studying at University of Grenoble in France in 1976, she returned to her undergraduate alma mater, completing her Master of Fine Arts degree in 1977. Thomas studied under Jacob Lawrence, Michael Spafford and Norman Lundin while at the University of Washington, noting that they “demonstrated that art was something that you do as your life’s work.” These two were not only mentors to her but considers them life-long friends.

The first in her family to attend college, Thomas began with a vague goal to become a “physical therapist,” eventually realizing that a major in art was a possibility.


In addition to working as an artist, Thomas is a writer and arts administrator. Thomas was appointed deputy director of the Northwest African American Museum in 2005, before the museum opened to the public, and moved up to the position of executive director in 2008. Wanting to spend more time on her art, she stepped down from her full-time executive director job in January 201.

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