BAIA BITS: Mildred Thompson


Little Moments Where Knowledge Meets Art

Mildred Thompson had enough. So much so that the multitalented painter, illustrator, printmaker, and sculptor spent the majority of the 1960s and 70s self-exiled in Germany because of the hostile and oppressive racial and gender climate in America. However, during her exile, Thompson’s work and her artistic reputation continued to flourish as she traveled, taught, and exhibited throughout Europe. 

Born in Jacksonville, Florida in 1936, Thompson majored in art at Howard University, graduating in 1957 after being instructed and mentored by prominent African American art historian, James Porter. Thompson received additional instruction at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine, The Brooklyn Museum School, and the Art Academy of Hamburg in Germany, also earning the prestigious MacDowell Colony residency in New Hampshire and a residency at Rocca Sinibalda Castle in Italy.


Mildred Thompson, Radiations Explorations (1994) (1994) ©The Mildred Thompson Estate


Thompson’s travels to Europe proved to have an indelible impact, relocating there during the American civil rights movement to pursue her art and her life in a less hostile environment. There, her compelling work—abstract, profoundly colorful and complex, commonly representing scientific theories and systems—resonated with international art enthusiasts as Thompson was well received in France, Germany, Italy and a host of other countries. 

In 1974, a National Endowment for the Arts grant brought Thompson back to her home state of Florida to serve as artist-in-residence for the City of Tampa. Three years later, she returned to Washington D.C. as an artist-in-residence at Howard, splitting time between the university and Europe, particularly Paris, France. At the same time, Thompson added yet another skill as she learned photography and began contributing her images to documentary films. 

In 1986, Thompson began a residency with Spelman College in Atlanta. In 1990, she began a decade-long teaching position with the Atlanta College of Art and, during this stint, acted as an Associate Editor at Art Papers magazine. 

Thompson died in Atlanta in 2003. Her award-winning work can be found in public and private collections and institutions in Europe and America. In 2016, Mildred Thompson: Resonance, Selected Works from the 1990s was presented at the SCAD Museum of Art in Savannah, Georgia. In 2018, Mildred Thompson: Against the Grain featured her experimental works in wood at the New Orleans Museum of Art and at the 10th Berlin Biennale in Germany. 

And, in 2019, Spelman College Museum of Fine Art presented a solo exhibition of her work, Mildred Thompson: The Atlanta Years, 1986-2003.

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