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The Cover
December 24/31, 2003

Starry Night With Astronauts

Author Affiliations

The Cover Section Editor: M. Therese Southgate, MD, Senior Contributing Editor.

JAMA. 2003;290(24):3171. doi:10.1001/jama.290.24.3171

Whether it was a yellow jonquil shivering in her spring garden, russet leaves drifting on an autumn wind, or red holly berries rattling outside her window, Alma Woodsey Thomas (1891-1978) saw them as no one had before. These homely objects, taken for granted by most, acknowledged, if at all, by the merest glance, were nature's gifts of color, revealed by light. As she watched—kept vigil, one might almost say—she began to see movement in the light and to discern the patterns of color it traced. Each glance was both the first and the last glimpse of that flower or leaf. What had been was no more, what it would become not yet known. Nothing remained the same. Every passage of light or slightest shift in the breeze created a new flower, a new leaf. Inspired, she began putting the patterns on canvas (JAMA covers, March 27, 1991, and September 13, 1995). She was 69 years old and had just retired from 35 years of teaching art at the Shaw Junior High School in Washington, DC. Only now could she devote herself full-time to her own painting. Twelve years later, in 1972, Alma Thomas had a solo exhibition of her works at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, the first African American woman to be so recognized. She called it her "banner year."

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