Barbara Earl Thomas - Claire Oliver Gallery

Barbara Earl Thomas

It is the chaos of living and the grief of our time that compels me, philosophically, emotionally, and artistically. I am a witness and a chronicler: I create stories from the apocalypse we live in now and narrate how life goes on in midst of the chaos. A central question drives me: What is our responsibility as humans to each other, especially in times of tragedy, violence, death, natural or human disasters? I credit my Southern parents, who migrated to Washington pre-WWII, for my ability to tell a good story. Dramatic tension helps me draw viewers in, finding their own meanings and connections, as I reference the issues most pressing to our own time—from environmental harm, gun violence, or the continuing needless loss of our young Black men. Sometimes I leave a bit of a fairy tale, or a Bible story, entwined with a current event; all are, at their core, archetypal struggles of tragedy, humor, and violence of our everyday lives.


June 24, 2022 to August 13, 2022

Claire Oliver Gallery

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Claire Oliver looks forward to exciting exhibitions in the 2022-23 season in Harlem. Future Perfect features new works by Robert Peterson, Stan Squirewell, Barbara Earl Thoms, Gio Swaby, Adebunmi Gbadebo, and introduces the works of Simone Saunders. Visit the exhibition and see what's coming next.

November 29, 2021 to December 4, 2021

Miami Beach, FL

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The Four Person Exhibition Will Feature New Works by Gallery Artists
Barbara Earl Thomas and Gio Swaby and Debuting Works by Gallery Newcomers Robert Peterson and Stan Squirewell
On View at Untitled Miami, November 29 – December 4, 2021

Point of Contact features the work of four artists whose practices vary but share commonality in their desire to reframe the often politicized Black body. Featuring figuration across mediums including Thomas’s signature polychrome cut paper, Swaby’s thread line
drawings on textile and polychrome quilt portraits, Peterson’s monumental oil on canvases and Squirewell’s mixed media photo collage, each work presents an opportunity for engagement where the art historical “gaze” is reversed and viewers are met as equals. The four artists use their works as a striking rebuke to white supremacy, eschewing negativity, they uplift by depicting their community in beauty, joy, and power as the ultimate form of resistance

December 1, 2020 to January 23, 2021

Claire Oliver Gallery

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Four Now Is A Presentation of The Gallery’s Booth at Untitled Art Fair,
Telegraphing the Excitement of Miami Art Week To Claire Oliver’s Harlem Headquarters
With A Dynamic Program of Virtual Talks

December 6, 2018 to December 9, 2018

Indian Beach Park, Miami Beach FL

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Claire Oliver Gallery, New York is proud to present
Impatient Obsessions: a three-person curated exhibition
featuring work by Barbara Earl Thomas, Bisa Butler, and Leonardo Benzant.

It makes no difference to the blackbird if he eats from our table or scavenges from our discarded piles. The future of his kind may not be altered. But that is not our fate. We’ve inherited the burden of knowledge and the grief of failed intention. We are not born blind, but we can choose to live that way. -- Barbara Earl Thomas

September 27, 2018 to September 30, 2018

Navy Pier, Chicago IL

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At EXPO Chicago 2018, Claire Oliver Gallery presented a two-person curated exhibition of new works of art by Barbara Earl Thomas and Bisa Butler entitled "Shattered". One definition of this word is disillusioned. The definition of disillusion is to be free of illusion; the works in this installation speak to the possibilities that are in front of us as a society if we can become empowered by understanding that which holds us captive and dismiss these delusions that serve to comfort us in a time to come. Shattered also connotes fragmented. The works of Butler and Earl Thomas use small fragments of disparate materials which they bring together in a way that speaks to a greater whole.

September 13, 2017 to September 17, 2017

Navy Pier, Chicago IL

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It is with great pleasure that Claire Oliver Gallery returns to Navy Pier for EXPO Chicago 2017. This year the gallery has selected new works by two of our artists who are exploring extremely topical and poignant subject matter.

March 2, 2017 to April 9, 2017

Claire Oliver Gallery

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In Barbara Earl Thomas’ works of art, we are treated to a chaotic dream world, cross pollinated with fragments of bible stories, folklore and superstition brought forth from the artist’s ‘deep south’ childhood. Her personal history and current social narrative harmoniously coexist in these visual anthologies; there is never a single thread of delineation for the artist, as there a proliferation of concurrence in the world we all inhabit together. As Thomas’s grandmother often told her, we are all damned and redeemed every day. “Even if we cannot see it, there are amazing things going on around us at every moment” she says.

Awards and Honors:

  • Grace Hopper Outstanding Achievement Award, 2018
  • Seattle Magazine‘s Hall of Fame, Arts and Culture, Seattle, WA, 2016
  • Governor’s Arts and Heritage Award, Individual Artist Award,
    Washington State, 2016
  • Stranger Genius Award in Art, Seattle, WA, 2016
  • The Irving and Yvonne Twining Humber Award, Artist Trust, Seattle, WA, 2016
  • Women’s University Club, Brava Award—for exceptional achievements, 2016
  • Artist in Residence, Pilchuck School, Stanwood, WA, 2015
  • Artist in Residence, Museum of Glass, Tacoma, WA, 2014
  • Artist in Residence, Goathead Press, Tieton, WA, 2014
  • Mayor’s Arts Award, Office of Arts and Culture, Seattle, WA, 2013
  • Hauberg Fellowship, Pilchuck Glass School, Stanwood, WA, 2009
  • Neddy Award Nominee, The Behnke Foundation, Seattle, WA, 2006
  • Poster Design Award, Bumbershoot, A Seattle Arts Festival, Seattle, WA, 2003
  • Visual Arts Honors Program, Seattle Collects, Award, Seattle Arts Commission, Seattle WA, 2002
  • Jack Straw Writer’s Award, Seattle, WA, 2002
  • Seattle Artist Writer’s Award, Seattle Arts Commission, Seattle WA, 2001
  • Hedgebrook Writer’s Residency Retreat, Whidbey, WA, 1999
  • Seattle Artist Writer’s Award, Seattle Arts Commission, Seattle WA, 1998
  • Neddy Award Nominee, The Behnke Foundation, Seattle, WA, 1998
  • Artist Trust Tenth Anniversary Presidents’ Award, Seattle, WA, 1997


  • 21c Museum, Louisville, KY
  • Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA
  • Sound Transit Authority, Seattle, WA
  • 4 Culture percent art collection – Evergreen State College, Olympia, WA
  • Sound Transit Authority, Seattle, WA
  • City of Seattle 1% Collection, Seattle, WA
  • Junior League of Seattle, Seattle, WA
  • The Henry Art Gallery, Seattle, WA
  • King County Arts Commission 1% Collection, Seattle, WA
  • Microsoft Corporation, Redmond, WA
  • Seattle First National Bank, Seattle, WA
  • Safeco Corporate Collection, Seattle, WA
  • Tacoma Art Museum, Tacoma, WA
  • University Medical Center, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
  • Walker Richer & Quinn Inc, Seattle, WA
  • Washington State Arts Commission, Cedar Heights Junior High, Kent School District, Kent, WA
  • Western Washington State University, Bellingham, WA

Public Art Installations:

  • King County Metro Transit 1-90 Judkins Link Light Rail Station, Seattle  WA, 2020
  • Multnomah County Central Courthouse, Portland, OR, 2018
  • Boulevard Park Library, Burien, WA, 2018
  • Sound Transit, I-90 Portal, 2015
  • Story Stones, Portage Bay Park, Seattle, WA, 2011
  • The Story House, Evergreen State College, Washington State Arts Commission, Olympia, WA, 2009
  • Electric Raven, Walden Triangle, Sound Transit, Seattle, WA, 2008
  • Art in Public Places – Raven Shouts Water, Seattle, WA, 2007

Selected Solo Exhibitions:

  • Barbara Earl Thomas New Works, Seattle Art Museum, 2020
  • The Blood Catcher and Other Stories, Claire Oliver Gallery, NY, 2017
  • Heaven on Fire, Bainbridge Island Art Museum, Bainbridge Island, WA, 2016
  • Story Line, Prints 2006-2013, Paper Hammer, Seattle, WA, 2013
  • Big Fish, The Meadows Museum, Shreveport, Louisiana, 2005
  • Elements, Evansville Museum of Arts and Science, Evansville, IN, 2005
  • Last Seen: Altar of Memory, an installation, Edmonds Community College Gallery, Edmonds, WA, 2005
  • A Fire in the Landscape, Francine Seders Gallery, Seattle, WA, 2003
  • Northwest Traditions, Tacoma Art Museum, Tacoma, WA, 2003
  • In Fire and Water, Francine Seders Gallery, Seattle, WA, 1998
  • Barbara Earl Thomas: An Exhibition, Olympic College Art Gallery, Bremerton, WA, 1997
  • The Book of Telling, Francine Seders Gallery, Seattle, WA, 1995
  • The Fallen House, Whatcom Museum of History and Art, Bellingham, WA, 1994
  • Requiem for a Tilted World, Francine Seders Gallery, Seattle, WA, 1990
  • Talking Back to the Storm: New Figurative Work by Barbara Thomas, Mitchell Museum, Mt. Vernon, IL, 1990
  • Art Gym: Gallery 2, Marylhurst College, Marylhurst, OR, 1989
  • Sheehan Gallery, Whitman College, Walla Walla, WA, 1985
  • Recent Work, Francine Seders Gallery, Seattle, WA, 1984
  • Executive Office Gallery, King County Courthouse, Seattle, 1984
  • Art Center Gallery, Seattle Pacific University, Seattle, WA, 1983

Selected Two-Person Exhibitions:

  • with Derrick Adams, The Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington, Seattle WA, 2020
  • Expo Chicago with Bisa Butler, Claire Oliver Gallery, Chicago IL, 2018
  • Expo Chicago with Gabi Trinkaus, Claire Oliver Gallery, Chicago IL, 2017

Selected Group Exhibitions:

  • PULSE Miami with Bisa Butler and Leonardo Benzant, Claire Oliver Gallery, 2018
  • Jacob Lawrence: Lines of Influence, SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah GA, 2017
  • Out of Sight, A survey of contemporary art in the Pacific Northwest, Seattle WA, 2015
  • Stereotype, Northwest African American Museum, Seattle WA, 2015
  • Good Neighbor, Seattle University, Seattle WA, 2015
  • Ink This, Contemporary Prints in the Northwest, Tacoma Art Museum, Tacoma WA, 2014
  • Inner Portraits, Bainbridge Island Art Museum, Bainbridge Is., WA, 2014
  • Best of the Northwest, Tacoma Art Museum, Tacoma, WA, 2013
  • Safeco Collection, The Wright Space, Seattle, WA, 2010
  • Northwest Women Artists 1880-2010, Whatcom Museum of History and Art, Bellingham, WA, 2010
  • A Concise History of Northwest Art, Tacoma Art Museum, Tacoma, WA, 2009
  • What is Black? , Seattle Art Museum, 2009
  • Building Community: Truth & Reconciliation, A Work-in-Progress Part II, Patricia Wismer Women’s Center, Seattle University, 2000
  • Drawing Revisited, Evergreen State College, Olympia, WA, 1999
  • Memory & Mourning: American Expressions of Grief, Washington State History Museum, Tacoma, WA, 1999
  • Civil Progress: Life in Black America, Greg Kucera Gallery, Seattle, WA, 1999
  • The Narrative Impulse: Visual Storytelling, Rental Sales Gallery, Seattle Art Museum, 1996
  • Wings, Rental Sales Gallery, Seattle Art Museum, 1995
  • Washington: 100 Years, 100 Paintings, Bellevue Arts Museum, Bellevue, WA, 1995
  • Art Works for AIDS, Seattle Center Pavilion, (also 1990), 1995
  • A Matter of Colors III, The African Connection, Pacific Arts Center, Seattle Center, 1994
  • The Northwest Art Collection of the Junior League of Seattle, Kinsey Gallery, Seattle University, 1994
  • The Art of Microsoft, Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington, Seattle, 1993
  • XX: An Exhibition on the Occasion of the Women’s Caucus for Art National Conference, Francine Seders Gallery II, Seattle, WA, 1993
  • Documents Northwest, The PONCHO Series: 1492/1992, Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA, 1992
  • Please and Thank Yous: 100 True Stories/Collaborators, Tacoma Art Museum, Tacoma, WA, 1991
  • 25th Anniversary Exhibitions: The Middle Years II 1981-1983, Francine Seders Gallery, Seattle, 1991
  • Washington to Washington: Women in Art Today, Washington State Museum of Art, Pullman, WA; the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.; and The Nordic Heritage Museum, Seattle, WA, 1989
  • Elizabeth Leach Gallery, Portland, OR, 1989
  • School of Art 1975-1988, Safeco Corporation, Seattle, WA, 1988
  • Northwest ’87, Seattle Art Museum, 1987
  • Aesthetics of the American Northwest, The Evans‑Tibbs Collection, Washington, D.C., 1987
  • Masks: A Contemporary Perspective, Whatcom Museum of History and Art, Bellingham, WA, 1987
  • Poetry in Art, Francine Seders Gallery, Seattle, WA, 1986
  • Figure: Narrative, Whatcom Museum of History and Art, Bellingham, WA, 1986
  • Seattle Painting 1925‑1985, Bumberbiennale, Seattle, WA, 1985

Download Biography

Barbara Earl Thomas on The Geography of Innocence

"It is the chaos of living and the grief of our time that compels me, philosophically, emotionally, and artistically. I am a witness and a chronicler"

MoAD In The Artist’s Studio | Barbara Earl Thomas

join the Museum of the African Diaspora's own Demetri Broxton as he visits Barbara Earl Thomas in her studio.

Heaven on Fire

Barbara Earl Thomas discusses the inspirations and messages in the works featured in her Bainbridge Island Museum of Art exhibition spanning thirty years of art making.

Seattle Cultural Ambassador Award

Barbara Earl Thomas discusses her cultural influences and community impact on the occasion of her receiving a Seattle Cultural Ambassador Award.


A Conversation With Barbara Earl Thomas

Cerebral Woman Art Talks Podcast

March 2, 2022


The Poetics of Barbara Earl Thomas

University of Washington

February 9, 2022


The Different Ways We Are Packaged Black

The Stranger

December 2, 2021


Visual Music

University of Washington Magazine

September 20, 2021

Museum & Institutional News

Packaged Black: Derrick Adams and Barbara Earl Thomas

Henry Art Gallery

October 2, 2021 - May 1, 2022


Upward and Onward, Black History Month feature

Interior Design

February 2, 2021


From 2 Artists, 2 Ways to Tell Stories of Black America

The New York Times

October 21, 2020


Barbara Earl Thomas Traverses the Geography of Innocence

South Seattle Emerald

September 11, 2020

Museum & Institutional News

Barbara Earl Thomas: The Geography of Innocence

Seattle Art Museum

November 14, 2020 - June 13, 2019


Latest News in African American Art

Culture Type

October 17, 2019


Claire Oliver Gallery: Advancing Artistic Careers

Vulcan Productions for Seattle Art Fair

July 16, 2018


Lines of Influence

Culture Type

February 4, 2018

Museum & Institutional News

JACOB LAWRENCE Lines of Influence

SCAD Museum of Art

September 7, 2017 - February 4, 2018


Seattle’s Public Art: Barbara Earl Thomas

August 1, 2008


Barbara Earl Thomas: “Heaven on Fire”

art ltd.

September 11, 2016


Why We Need Barbara Earl Thomas Now

The Stranger

July 22, 2016


Winner of a Stranger Genius Award in Art

The Stranger

September 14, 2016

Museum & Institutional News

Heaven On Fire

Bainbridge Island Museum of Art

June 25, 2016 - October 2, 2016