Firmament (this is a photo I took of a print I ordered, from the collection of Wendy & Colin Oke)
Alma lived most of her life in Muskoka, Ontario, growing up living in a small cabin on a dairy farm. While she did draw as a child, there was nothing in it to predict her later work.
As a young woman she spent some time in Toronto where she worked at York Pottery while living in a garret. Initially her art was pretty and decorative though mundane, with this changing drastically in the 50’s after she received an extraordinary vision.
In her vision she received a visit from Jesus who was accompanied by a panther, (interestingly, the panther is the symbol for Christ), and who informed her she would need to work for humanity through her art and writing. At some point later she met her spirit guide, Aba Pasha (meaning Messenger of God), a turbaned genius (this is the singular of genie) with a big warm smile who seemed to function as a daemon (a guiding spirit), and she thus began these channeled works through a sort of psychic automatism.
Alma described it as when she was sitting at her table drawing, suddenly she would feel her hand wanted to draw in it’s own way, apart from her. So she would get some large pieces of paper and simply let her hand go to work. As each drawing was finished, she feel the need to keep going. When she ran out of paper, she would draw on walls, floors and furniture.
Alma said about this….”It was a complete, a complete new thing to me. I knew nothing about it. That face when I was drawing it; I didn’t know who it was or what it was. Isn’t that strange?” She called it "The Hand."
Psychic automatism is a surrealist term which is essentially about getting yourself out of the way and letting the visions and art flow from the unconscious. The French poet André Breton who with his Manifesto of Surrealism launched the surrealist movement, defined surrealism as:
‘Pure psychic automatism ... the dictation of thought in the absence of all control exercised by reason and outside all moral or aesthetic concerns’.
The documentary mentions, that if Carl Jung had seen Alma's drawings, he might have said Alma had tapped into the collective unconscious. Many of the designs in her work are seen across cultures, intricate drawings and spirals are seen all over in sacred places; such as the Nazca Lines, Tibetan art and ancient Aztec art.
Also mentioned in the documentary, is that the late Michael Greenwood, who was the former curator of the York University Art Gallery, while looking at Alma’s work, stated that he not seen a purer case of psychic automatism since Blake. William Blake often credited a spiritual force besides his own in his work, and he saw often saw visions of spirits and angels. As a life long admirer of Blake, I can recognize this same quality in Alma's art myself, and I think it is why I am so drawn to her work.
While Alma was religious, she seemed happy to be in her home with the spirits and not in need of church. God was with her and she often read her bible. It is interesting that this woman, a devout Christian, was the channel through which these works, rich with symbolism, including Tibetan and Mayan imagery, appeared. She did not believe in reincarnation and thought her drawings were likely of heaven. No matter what the drawings showed, she was only able to interpret them through a Christian lens, and sadly, she burned many drawings which said things which frightened her.
In the 1970s, Kalu Rinpoche, upon a visit when he accompanied H.H. the Dalai Lama to Toronto, was brought some of Alma’s drawings, and he stated not only did they show deities in the Tibetan pantheon, but they also were rendered exactly correctly, something which takes training. HH the Dalai Lama himself told Wendy these draws were of pure spirit. One of the figures identified by Kalu Rinpoche as a Tibetan Guardian, was the same figure Alma herself identified as her guide Aba Pasha mentioned above. It seems these drawings are so rich with imagery and symbolism, that they can be interpreted differently according to who is viewing them. This makes so much sense to myself personally as I believe all religions are true.
Alma also drew images with writing, such as a series about Atlantis, although she had never heard of Atlantis previously. She did at one point read a book about Atlantis which Wendy had given her, but not before she had made the Atlantis drawings, which is what prompted the gift of the book. These approximate 100 pages contained an image she drew at the top and the bottom was the translation of the shapes and colours which detailed out a story of Atlantis which a voice had told her.
Following is an excerpt of this voice she heard telling her this story:
” This is Alma’s insignia; it was given to her way back in the days of Atlantis. She had done so much for humanity, even that she lose her life. For if this happened the world can not be saved from evil. She gave new ideas for building their homes and inspired them to love goodness and beauty in all things. The Queen started new industries. They are different then you have today. Each family made the things needed. You will think this will not work in this age, but it would, as it was completely successful for the people of Atlantis. They were quite advanced even before this. They did not have cars and telephones and television. These were not necessary to them. They had developed a kind of telepathic communication. For locomotion they had atomic powered wings that flew with very little effort. For light they had (_) electricity, but it was generated by atomic power. It was not like the present atomic power because this was made by the holy ghost. You will do well to obey my instructions, I am your lord., This is what I wish Give your hearts to me. Give your love and assistance to Alma who is trying to give you the inspired ideas which saved the people of Atlantis. She has done this work with the guidance of the holy ghost."
Though this story is interesting, Wendy mentions that the purpose of it was mainly to get the left side of the brain out of the way, and allow the healing energy from the imagery to be activated. You can see the Atlantis images on the Alma Matters website.
As an adult Alma lived fairly reclusively in a cottage by Fairy Lake in Huntsville, Muskoka. Christ had told her to draw and write, and so she did, spending her years as a recluse. In 1970 she had a stroke and lost her precision motor control, but she continued to draw.
Alma would say “I feel that there is spiritual power up there, directing…probably directing me you know. But I can’t tell or say too much about it because I haven’t gotten it all straightened out in my mind you know. But I think that, I have a feeling that, it’s certainly good, good I’m sure.”
I have my own personal connection to Alma's work. The first time I viewed 'Firmament', I was stunned. It was entirely familiar to me. In an article Wendy wrote [linked below], she says, “There is always an intense reaction when viewers interact with her artwork.” That certainly rang true for me. There are two images of Alma's work that I shared here, ‘Exotic Bird Bath’ below, and ‘Firmament” at the top of this post, both of which were instantly recognizable and so familiar to me, from lands I have seen doing spiritual journey work. They are paintings of what I think of as a spirit or astral realm. I was astounded and so very delighted to see these exact same magical and somehow liquid landscapes translated onto paper. In the documentary, Jerimiah Munce also says something I found so interesting just after he shows 'Firmament' on the screen, ''….the flood of recurring imagery reminded me of something, the drawings began to feel like liquid; from another realm entirely."
I hope to see Alma’s work studied and shared so much more. The imagery is absolutely filled with symbology. It would be wonderful to see the images in a book with many of the details highlighted. Though it would have to be quite a large book! The images shared here are not even close to all of them. The drawings in this post and at the Alma Matters website are from the collection of Wendy and Colin, but an even greater amount of the drawings are in the collection of York University in Toronto.
Alma made something like 5000 drawings which is an incredible expanse of work. It is worthwhile to note she never named any of them, they were named, with permission from Alma, by Wendy, who essentially listened to each piece itself to gain the name.
I have nowhere near exhausted all there is to know of this astounding woman, and her connections to the realms of the unseen, but again, I would direct you the documentary as well as to various interviews and talks with Wendy, and which as already mentioned, are linked below. And please definitely check out Wendy’s website ‘Alma Matters’ where you can see a nice selection of Alma’s artwork along with some notes from Wendy. She also sells DVDs of the documentary as well as very affordable prints of the artwork. I have bought several of the prints and they are lovely quality. Wendy is also lovely to email with, a very kind soul.
[This is an older blog post from around the early 2000's and has been rewritten several times. I first learned about Alma around 2010 but never stopped being amazed by her life's work!]
Art Images are courtesy of Wendy and Colin Oke and are listed in order top to bottom: Firmament, Young Alma, Aba in Oil, Guardian of the East, Christ the Master Griffin, Older Alma, Birdbath, Chariot of the Gods, Wendy's Pair 2.
Alma Matters: http://www.almamatters.ca/
You can view the documentary here: https://www.cultureunplugged.com/documentary/watch-online/play/54280/The-Alma-Drawings
Inspired Journeys with Artistic Pioneer Alma Rumball: https://lifeasahuman.com/2014/virtual-art-gallery/drawings-and-sketches/inspired-journeys-with-artistic-pioneer-alma-rumball/
For some interesting details about Alma and about Wendy's mission: https://mediumisticart.com/discovering-collections/the-automatic-drawings-of-alma-rumball/
An interesting talk Wendy gave for the College of Psychic Studies
Unfortunately, I have just learned that Wendy passed away in 2022, thank you Colin for letting me know. I wish I had been able to share this post with her as I think she would have been pleased, she was so happy when she saw how touched other's were by Alma's work. Wendy did a wonderful job in her mission to share Alma with the world, and I am glad there was no suffering for her in her passing. I had some good conversations with her by email, she was a lovely and compassionate person.
Interestingly, after I emailed Wendy to share this post with her, I had a strong feeling that I was already too late, and that she had moved on, and in my mind's eye I just knew it would be Colin replying to my email. That is a testament to the strong spiritual power Wendy had.
Thank you for sharing Alma with me Wendy! And thank you Colin!