‘All those voices are valued’

Autumn Thomas reflects on being a Black artist by bending wood in her sculptures

Christy Steadman
csteadman@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 10/29/20

When Congress Park resident Autumn Thomas was in kindergarten, she got interviewed about one of her school projects by television news anchor Reynelda Muse, who is a Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame …

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‘All those voices are valued’

Autumn Thomas reflects on being a Black artist by bending wood in her sculptures

Posted

When Congress Park resident Autumn Thomas was in kindergarten, she got interviewed about one of her school projects by television news anchor Reynelda Muse, who is a Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame inductee and known for being the first woman and first African-American to anchor a newscast in Colorado.

“I don’t remember, ever, not being an artist,” Thomas said of her first memory of being interviewed because of her art.

Today, Thomas, 42, is an interdisciplinary artist currently focusing on wood sculptures. In the past year, she has created about 10 original sculptures, she said.

“It’s been amazing,” Thomas said, adding she particularly enjoys creating public art.

Thomas works a full-time job as an account manager, and also spends time mentoring youths who are up-and-coming artists themselves.

“It’s fascinating to hear young people talk,” Thomas said. “It allowed the inner child in me to come out and just enjoy the making.”

Describing herself as a “maker,” Thomas was a recent artist-in-residency at PlatteForum, which is a Denver-based, nonprofit arts, youth development and artist-in-residence program. During her residency, Thomas worked with PlatteForum’s ArtLab high school interns for six weekend workshops to teach them the skill of 3D printing. In that role, Thomas encouraged the youths that it’s OK to be both vulnerable and strong, she said.

Being vulnerable “is challenging but also rewarding,” Thomas said, adding that when artists are vulnerable, their work is more relatable to people.

Thomas’ work, along with that of the interns, was featured in PlatteForum’s exhibition, To Muse the Labyrinth, which will be available for viewing through Nov. 8 for Denver Arts Week.

“To Muse the Labyrinth is an exploration of what it means for me to be a Black artist, lost between worlds of anger, resolve and conjecture,” Thomas said in a news release. “During this residency (at PlatteForum), I will create a labyrinth — a safe space in which to be vulnerable, free from judgment and awashed in absolution.”

Thomas was raised in Denver and attended East High School. She relocated to Chicago to earn her undergraduate in visual communication, then attended graduate school in Philadelphia and earned a master’s of fine art in printmaking and book art. She did a fellowship in New Jersey before returning to Denver — where her family resides — about three years ago.

Thomas’ “sculptures feature minimal design, subverting traditional imagery of Black art” and addresses “concepts of systemic oppression in an unexpected form,” states a news release.

Reflecting “the endurance required by marginalized communities to endure intersecting forms of bias in their everyday lives,” states a news release, Thomas creates curves in the wood by placing hundreds of cuts in it, which allows the wood to bend and arch.

Physically doing the work is cathartic to Thomas, she said. Wood is not supposed to bend, but making it do so is like chipping away structure — or, what institutionally is supposed to be, Thomas said.

“There can be beautiful change if we chip away from institutional structure,” she said.

Thomas is a firm believer that no Black artist’s abstract work should be discounted.

Whether the work is speaking to its audience in a quiet and soft voice, or whether it’s rage, “everything along that spectrum is valuable,” Thomas said. “All of those voices are valued.”

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