Mildred Thompson was born in 1936 in Jacksonville, Florida. She earned her Bachelor of Art degree from Howard University in Washington, D.C. in 1957 under the tutelage and mentorship of pioneering African American art historian James Porter. Thompson also attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine (1956), earned a Max Beckmann Scholarship to study at The Brooklyn Museum School (1957-58), and attended the Art Academy of Hamburg (Hochschule für bildende Künste) from 1958-61. In 1959, she participated in a residency at Castle Roccassinibaldi, Italy, and in 1961 and 1962 was also selected for the prestigious MacDowell Colony residency in New Hampshire.
While in New York in the early 1960s Thompson’s work was purchased by The Museum of Modern Art and the Brooklyn Museum. Thompson, however, spent most of the 1960s and 70s in self-imposed exile in Germany (predominantly Düren and Konzendorf, near Cologne) due to the racial and gender discrimination she faced in the United States. During this time, Thompson taught, traveled and exhibited widely in Europe, while producing prolific and mature bodies of work in printmaking, painting and sculpture.
In 1974, Thompson received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to serve as artist-in-residence for the City of Tampa in 1974, and returned to Washington, D.C. as an artist-in-residence at Howard University in 1977. From 1979-85 Thompson divided her time between various studios in Washington, D.C. and Paris, France, and also began taking photographs and contributing these skills to the making of documentary films. In 1986 she accepted an artist-in-residence post at Spelman College, Atlanta, GA, and began teaching at the Atlanta College of Art in 1990 where she taught until 2000. During this time she was also an Associate Editor at Art Papers magazine.
Thompson’s work can be found in the public collections of the American Federation of Arts, NY; the Birmingham Museum of Art; the Brooklyn Museum, NY; the Coca-Cola Company, Atlanta, GA; the Georgia Museum of Art; The Museum of Modern Art, NY; and Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C.; and in Germany at the Leopold Hoesch Museum, Düren, and the Hamburg Museum, among others. Her work can be found in numerous private collections in Europe and the U.S., including the prestigious African American art collections of Larry and Brenda Thompson and the Mott-Warsh Collection.