Temple alumna teaches North Philly students Black art history

Patricia Thomas bases her teaching on strengthening students’ pride in Black heritage.

Patricia Thomas, a 2017 painting alumna, critiques one of her students’ drawings of the human form during class at the Tyler School of Art and Architecture on Nov. 9. | CLAUDIA SALVATO / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Patricia Thomas wanted to know what she can do as an artist to give back to the North Philadelphia community after graduating from Temple University.

“Some people go on vacation, you know, some people take a break, and that’s totally fine and healthy, but for me, my first response was, ‘How can I spend the next six months to not only benefit my future, but someone else’s?’” said Thomas, a 2017 painting alumna.

Thomas is an artist and art teacher who roots her work in the history of Blackness, investigating beauty in Western culture and empowering the African American community. While Thomas wants to continue her career as an artist, she also hopes to pursue teaching to educate and empower young Black artists in North Philadelphia.

Thomas, now a first-year MFA painting student at the University of Pennsylvania, earned a teaching certificate at Art Sanctuary, a non-profit Black organization on 16th and Bainbridge streets last year.

She became a lead teacher at the Church of the Advocate on Diamond and 18th streets for the 2018-19 school year.

Thomas no longer works at the church, but teaches painting and drawing at the Continuing Education program at the Tyler School of Art and Architecture on weekends. 

Thomas realized she wanted to be a teacher after introducing her class to kente cloth, the most widely known African cloth, according to the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art.

Patricia Thomas, a 2017 painting alumna, teaches a class as part of the Continuing Education Program in Tyler School of Art and Architecture on Nov. 9. | CLAUDIA SALVATO / THE TEMPLE NEWS

“They looked at me like no one has ever talked to them about this before,” Thomas said. “They had this realization about themselves and the process of making art, and no one, no one can take away the history and the pride that they got from it.”

It was the first time many students’ histories were represented, she added.

“We’re saying that we, as artists of color, have a little bit more information that has delved into a lot of our own cultural practices,” said Priscilla Bell, Thomas’s former co-teacher at Church of the Advocate. “We have the opportunity to share our knowledge with the students to kind of delve in a little bit deeper than what they learn in school.”

Together, Thomas and Bell created a classroom atmosphere that highlighted the Black experience and what it means to be an artist of color, said Adia Harmon-Massie, their former colleague.

Harmon-Massie admired Thomas’ patience with students. She added that the kids that come into the spaces experience chronic traumas and Thomas was able to calm them down, and help them enjoy art.

“As a young Black person it’s important to recognize what you represent and that you come from a strong lineage, and that the ancestors are proud of what you’re doing,” Harmon-Massie said.

Thomas created a bond with her students to a point where they would approach and hug her on the street, she said.

Through teaching, Thomas hopes to reassure her students that as African Americans, they are able to pursue a career in art and be successful, she said.

“You just have to make yourself available, you just have to, you know,”  she added. “Put your time in and inspire the next generation because somebody inspired you, and I am just striving to be that for as many kids as possible.” 

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