Nancy Elizabeth Prophet: Forgotten Sculptor & Teacher

Written by Jae Jones

Nancy Elizabeth Prophet created sculptural masterpieces. However, very little is known about her and her work. Prophet was an only child born to William H. Prophet and Rose Walker. Her father worked for the city and her mother was a housewife.

Prophet found the love for sculpting at a very young age, and encouraged by friends and family members, she enrolled in the renowned Rhode Island School of Design at the age of 24. Prophet took odd jobs to help pay for her art school tuition and graduated in 1918, during the Harlem Renaissance

In 1922, with financial assistance from Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, Prophet was able to study abroad in Paris. While there, she attracted the attention of artist Henry O. Tanner. Tanner was highly impressed with her work and recommended her for the Harmon foundation Prize, which she won.

Prophet’s 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 exhibitions  throughout the 1930’s via the Harmon Foundation and the Whitney Sculpture Biennial.

Prophet returned to the United States and began a teaching career at Spelman College. In 1939, she began teaching at Atlanta University, but soon realized there were few opportunities for black women in Atlanta’s art community. She soon returned to Rhode Island and decided to start her career over. She began working as a domestic, leaving her art and sculpting life behind.

In 1978, her pieces were part of the “Four from Providence” exhibit at the Bannister Gallery of Rhode Island College. One of Prophet’s finest surviving works is “Negro Head,” a larger-than-life size wooden sculpture. Prophet died in 1960 with little fame, despite her artistic prowess.



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About the author

Jae Jones

Jae Jones has been writing professionally for over 10 years. She holds a degree in Business Administration, and enjoys writing on various topics.

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