Press Releases

The Arthur Ross Gallery Receives a Major $240,500 Grant from The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage for Barbara Earl Thomas: The Illuminated Body

September 14, 2023

PHILADELPHIA, PA (September 14, 2023) – The Arthur Ross Gallery of the University of Pennsylvania has been awarded a major grant of $240,500 from The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage to support the exhibition Barbara Earl Thomas: The Illuminated Body and a series of major programs organized for the exhibition. The grant includes both project funding and an additional 20% in unrestricted, general operating support.

This is the first time that the work of celebrated Seattle-based artist Barbara Earl Thomas will be seen in Philadelphia. A travelling exhibition celebrating Black creativity and community, Barbara Earl Thomas: The Illuminated Body will be on view at the Arthur Ross Gallery from February 17 – May 21, 2024.

Thomas’ large-scale cut paper pieces celebrate Black cultural icons such as August Wilson, Seth Parker Woods, and Charles Johnson, alongside Thomas’ friends and family. The exhibition features artworks that give an illusion of illumination through layers of luminous, jewel-colored paper behind black-paper portraits. The bodies of visitors will be bathed in light and shadow as they step inside the Transformation Room, a space surrounded with Tyvek curtains that have been cut to filter the light.

“We are very grateful to the Center,” said Penn Provost John L. Jackson, Jr., “for supporting this major national exhibition and the significant work of the Arthur Ross Gallery. This generous funding will enable the Gallery to expand its engagement with the local community, which is an important goal across the university. We look forward to welcoming Barbara Earl Thomas to her landmark first-ever show at Penn and in Philadelphia.”

The Center funding will support not only the exhibition but also a wide range of community programs. “This grant gives us the means to realize Barbara Earl Thomas’ full vision for The Illuminated Body, to support the artist in taking an ambitious new step in her practice, and to think deeply about the ways in which the exhibition’s themes of creativity and connection resonate here in Philadelphia,” says Emily Zimmerman, Interim Director of Exhibitions and Programs at the Arthur Ross Gallery.

“Making is thinking,” in Barbara Earl Thomas’ own words, “and my artistic vision is at its best when I step into each new opportunity as if it were a new country, with an unknown language, that I must decode. The Arthur Ross Gallery, with this amazing grant from The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, is giving me an opportunity to collaborate with much-admired cellist Seth Parker Woods and to expand and adapt my immersive installation into the Arthur Ross Gallery’s historic space. I am deeply grateful, and I will meet this opportunity as a challenge to create a community gathering experience where my vision is filtered through sound and light, while being anchored in the historic familiar, poised for transformation.”  

A visual storyteller for over 40 years, Thomas draws from history, literature, folklore, mythology, and the Bible to reflect the social fabric of her times. Her narrative and figurative imagery has a deep philosophical and emotional force, especially through leveraging the power of light and dark. Thomas’ most recent commissions demonstrate the scope and diversity of her work, including six major stained-glass windows for Grace Hopper College at Yale University, a 33-panel steel mural for the façade of the Central Courthouse of Multnomah County in Portland Oregon, and a large-scale glass commission for the Judkins Park Light Rail Station in Seattle. 

About the Arthur Ross Gallery

The Arthur Ross Gallery is a catalyst for creativity, and its mission is to engage, educate, and inspire. The Arthur Ross Gallery is a resource for the entire University community, across schools and departments, as well as the local community and scholars around the world. We are a learning lab where people engage with important, and often rarely seen, art and artifacts from a diverse range of time periods, media and cultures.

The gallery was founded in 1983 with a gift from Arthur Ross to share his joy of art by bringing important works to campus to inspire new generations. The Arthur Ross Gallery is located in the landmark Fisher Fine Arts Library building designed by Frank Furness, in the center of Penn’s campus.

Arthur Ross Gallery
University of Pennsylvania
Fisher Fine Arts Library Building
220 South 34th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104


GALLERY HOURS: Tues – Fri: 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Weekends: 12:00 – 5:00 PM
Closed Monday

Image credit: Barbara Earl Thomas (American, b. 1948), Girl and the World, 2022. Paper cut with hand-printed color. Courtesy of Claire Oliver Gallery, New York, and the artist. Photography by Spike Mafford / Zocalo Studios.

Sarah Brown McLeod, DEPARTMENT PR