Nancy Elizabeth Prophet, Vitreous Painting on Glass, 8 x10”
Nancy Elizabeth Prophet (1890-1960) was an American sculptress and a 1918 graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design. Her work became well-known throughout Europe and the United States, and she later taught in various schools. Born in Warwick (Rhode Island) to a Narraganset Indian father and an Afro-American mother, she experienced and struggled against racial discrimination typical of the times in which she lived. Her diary, dating from a period when she was working in Paris, detail the deep anguish she felt during a time of misfortune and hardship.
Nancy Elizabeth Prophet was born on this date in 1890. She was an African-American sculptor. An only child from Providence, Rhode Island, her father, William H. Prophet, was employed by that city, and her mother, Rose Walker Prophet, was a housewife. Encouraged by family and friends after high school, Prophet enrolled in the renowned Rhode Island School of Design, working as a domestic to pay her tuition. Her graduation and the Harlem Renaissance occurred at the same time, where she lived briefly.
In 1922, with financial assistance from Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, Prophet went to Paris to study. While there she came to the attention of 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. In America, her works were exhibited in group exhibition throughout the 1930’s via the Harmon Foundation and the Whitney Sculpture Biennial. In 1932, she returned to America and began teaching at Spelman College.
In 1939, Prophet began teaching at Atlanta University where she apparently realized there was virtually no room for opportunity for her as a Black woman to become part of the Atlanta art community. Because of this reality, she returned to Rhode Island in 1945 and lack of contacts in her field forced her to basically start her career over. Prophet went to work as a domestic again. 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 in poverty and obscurity.
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