Among the students at Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial University (now Tennessee State) in 1953 was a 47-year-old resident of Adairville, Kentucky named Mazie Lee Thomas. Born in Georgia, Thomas (1906-2001) had begun teaching herself to draw and paint at an early age. One day, having grown tired of “piddling around” with her skills, she took a bus to Nashville to show some of her paintings to one of Tennessee A&I’s art teachers. After the teacher made a personal trip to Adairville to secure her husband’s cooperation, she enrolled at the school for a year’s training.
In addition to painting in oil, watercolor and acrylic, Thomas fashioned greeting cards and craft items such as corn shuck dolls and paper mache figures. Today, some of her paintings are held in the collections of Morehead’s Kentucky Folk Art Center and at WKU’s Special Collections Library.
The Library also holds manuscript materials documenting the work of this African-American folk artist. Included are clippings and artwork collected by her niece into a scrapbook, slides of her paintings, and a short video of Thomas discussing her work.
Click here to download a finding aid for the Mazie Lee Thomas Collection. For more on African Americans and folk artists, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.