Nancy Elizabeth Prophet
Nancy Elizabeth Prophet was an African American female sculptor, born March 19, 1890 to William H. Prophet and Rose Walker Prophet, in Warwick, Rhode Island. She matured into a sculptural artist during the Harlem Renaissance.
In 1918, at the age of 24, Prophet, a high school graduate, enrolled in the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island. While attending RISD, she married Francis Ford, whom she later divorced. Prophet began her studies in art, focusing on painting and drawing, especially portraiture. She immediately began advertising her name in exhibits in Newport and New York though she was not allowed to appear alongside her work due to the color of her skin—being of both African American and Narragansett Indian descent. Gallery owners found her appearance “socially unacceptable”. Taking a stand to this racial discrimination, Prophet refused to succumb to the times and denied galleries her artwork where she was not accepted.
Leaving behind the racial turmoil she faced in the United States, with financial assistance from Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney in 1922, Prophet moved to Paris to further study her newfound passion and to claim the credit her work rightfully deserved. Prophet found her calling in marble sculptures of life-size faces that vividly portrayed various moods. While in Paris, she came to the attention of African American artist Henry O. Tanner. Her work impressed him and he recommended her for the Harmon foundation Prize, which she won. Her work was exhibited at the Paris August Salons from 1924-1927 and at the Salon d’Automne in 1931 and 1932.
Nancy Elizabeth Prophet, Head of a Cossack
In America, her works were exhibited in group exhibitions throughout the 1930’s via the Harmon Foundation and the Whitney Sculpture Biennial. Returning to the United States in 1932, Prophet realized her work began gaining attention, proving that beyond her skin color she was a true artist. She was invited to exhibit her art in galleries located in New York and Rhode Island.
In 1939 Prophet moved her studies down to Atlanta, Georgia, and began a career as a professor teaching art students enrolled at both Atlanta University and Spelman College, in her hopes of encouraging the creative minds of youths, the type of encouragement which was unavailable to her with during her early years. She then realized there was virtually no room for opportunity for her as a Black woman to become part of the Atlanta art community.
Nancy Elizabeth Prophet, Silence
In 1945, Prophet returned to Rhode Island to escape the rejection she had once again faced in the south and attempted to regain her status as an artist. Due to lack of contacts and networking and in her field, she was forced to basically start her career over. However, her attempt proved dismal and Prophet was regrettably forced into domestic work. She did have one known one-person exhibit in 1945 at the Providence Public Library. In 1978, her pieces were part of the “Four from Providence” exhibit at the Bannister Gallery of Rhode Island College.
Nancy Elizabeth Prophet died in 1960.
- 1924-27:Paris August Salons
- 1931-32:Salon d'Automne
- 1930’s:Harmon FoundationandWhitney Biennial
- 1945: Providence Public Library
- 1978: “Four from Providence”, Bannister Gallery of Rhode Island College
Great African American sculptors brought to you by Paris-based black painter Ealy Mays
REFERENCES / SOURCES / LINKS
- African American Registry Online. 2005Accessed December 19, 2011 This site refers toSt. James Guide to Black Artists, Edited by Thomas Riggs, Detroit : St. James Press, ©1997ISBN 1-55862-220-9
- Ask Art: The American Artists Bluebook. 2007Accessed December 19, 2011
- The Rhode Island Black Heritage Society. 2003. Accessed April 16, 2007.