SoVA, So Good: Barbara Campbell Thomas

What it lacks in big-city buzz, Penn State’s School of Visual Arts more than makes up for with engaged faculty, talented students, a supportive culture, and a track record of producing acclaimed, innovative artists—like Barbara Campbell Thomas ’98 A&A, who is brimming with ideas for integrating facets of quilting in her abstract painting.

The Bright Hour 2021 by Barbara Campbell Thomas, courtesy

Finding Comfort and Connection in an Unlikely Influence

Illustration of Barbara Campbell Thomas by Joel Kimmel

About nine years ago, Barbara Campbell Thomas’ mother bought her a sewing machine for her birthday and insisted that she learn to quilt. “I immediately felt it was this missing knowledge for me, that somehow it was going to be really important to the work I was doing in my studio as a painter,” Thomas ’98 A&A says. “Quilting has become the flipside of painting for me—I have a lot of ideas for new ways I want to integrate facets of quilting into the work.”

Thomas acknowledges that abstract art “can seem intimidating to people,” a hurdle that she hopes her more recent work can help clear. “My paintings are really invested in the idea of locating abstraction within everyday life,” she says. “Think of the history of quilting, which we link so much to domesticity and the home. It’s that softened, geometric quality, full of color, full of collage and shifting surfaces.”

Thomas recently began her 20th year as an art professor at the University of North Carolina Greensboro. “I love teaching,” she says. “I have experienced the ways in which being an artist opens your eyes to the world, and I believe in the potential of that so strongly. Being part of shepherding others on that journey is really thrilling.”


Sky Book 2021 by Barbara Campbell Thomas, courtesy
Sky Book (2021)


Blaze 2021 by Barbara Campbell Thomas, courtesy
Blaze (2021)


Rhythms for Transport 2021 by Barbara Campbell Thomas, courtesy
Rhythms for Transport (2021)


View the other alumni artists in this feature:

Brian AlfredJoelle Dietrick, Lauren Luloff, and Devan Shimoyama