Morris Taft Thomas
| Morris Taft Thomas|
(Artist and sculptor)
|Born|| October 12, 1935 |
New Orleans, Louisiana
Resident of Alexandria, Louisiana
|Spouse||Willola Johnson Thomas|
A son of Taft Young Thomas, a longshoreman, Morris Thomas was born in New Orleans. His maternal grandfather, Samuel Foster, was also an artist as well as a Baptist minister and from 1909-1949 the first black employee of the Exxon Corporation in Baton Rouge. Foster encouraged the senior Thomas to take a job at Exxon as well, and the parents relocated to Baton Rouge when Morris was two years of age. He attended the historically black Southern University Laboratory School in 1953 and completed a Bachelor of Arts in 1960 and a Master of Education in supervision and administration in 1978 from Southern University in Baton Rouge. He also studied at three other universities and from 1998 to 2002 sat on the board of directors of the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. He taught junior high school for twelve years in Alexandria before his promotion to principal, a position that he held for twenty-five years until his retirement in 1997. He was first assigned to the former Alfred Wettermark High School in Boyce in northern Rapides Parish, now known as Northwood High School, and then D. F. Huddle Elementary School in Alexandria. As an assistant principal at Bolton High School in Alexandria, he taught a senior art class. He is a former adjunct professor of art history at Louisiana State University at Alexandria, then a two-year institution since expanded to four years.
Thomas uses stone, wood, clay, metal, and paint in his art, which is drawn from both African and his native Louisiana heritage. Thomas has won numerous awards in sculpture and ceramics. In 2001, he was selected as a representative from Louisiana to make an ornament for the White House Christmas tree, as U.S. President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura Bush, invited Thomas to the White House. In 2008, he was named "Louisiana Professional Artist of the Year" by then Governor Murphy James "Mike" Foster, Jr.
Some of Thomas' works are displayed at the historically black Grambling State University, the Alexandria Museum of Art, Southern University Museum of Art, the Abbeville (Louisiana) Museum of Art, the White House Archives, and the City of Alexandria. Private collectors of his work have included musician B.B. King, Yolanda King, Nelson Mandela, and the estate of Alex Haley. Thomas has penned numerous articles and books on art, including Contributions of Negro Artists in Louisiana (1972) and Eminent Black Artists in Louisiana (1975).
Thomas has named his studio in Alexandria for his middle name: "My name encompasses the essence of my being. It represents ancestral connections that are woven into the fibers of my existence," Thomas wrote for the beginning of a poem. The New Orleans artist Joseph Pearson, with whom Thomas has done art shows, hailed Thomas' "work ethic and his creativity ... who is continually striving to improve, always working to get better."
Thomas was in the same fraternity as Martin Luther King, Jr., Alpha Phi Alpha, and was the local person selected to meet King at the Alexandria airport when the civil rights figure spoke in November 1966 at a convention of the former Louisiana Education Association at the Rapides Parish Coliseum. Thomas recalls that his wife, Willola, looked at King, and "he looked at her, but she never extended her hand, and he moved on. She remembered his eyes, very intense eyes. He could look at you as though he could see your soul. He had full focus."
- Bob Tompkins (January 30, 2015). Alexandria's Thomas art educator, notable sculptor. The Alexandria Town Talk. Retrieved on June 20, 2017.
- Taft's Art Studio: Creative Works of Morris Taft Thomas. Taftartsstudio.com. Retrieved on June 20, 2017.