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 Nancy Elizabeth Prophet  (1890 - 1960)

About: Nancy Elizabeth Prophet
 

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Lived/Active: Georgia/Rhode Island      Known for: carved wood portrait sculpture

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Ad Code: 3
Nancy Elizabeth Prophet
from Auction House Records.
Untitled (Head).
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A hard-working sculptor who earned many prizes but never made much money, she was half African American and half Native American. At age twenty four, she enrolled in the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence and while a student, married Francis Ford, but they later divorced.

She studied sculpture but early on focused more on painting and drawing, especially portraiture, from which she tried unsuccessfully to make a living. Being black, she felt much discriminated against, particularly when a gallery agreed to show her work if she did not attend the opening.

Hoping for a more tolerant social climate, she moved to Paris in 1922, but she nearly starved to death trying to succeed as a sculptor. A benefactor gave her money, but her drunken husband and ill health were a deterrent to any success. In 1925, she was hospitalized briefly for malnutrition, but finally enjoyed moderate success with a patron, W.E.B. DuBois, who sponsored a trip for her back to the United States where she found some collectors and several museums.

She returned to France, and had more success there. In 1932, the Whitney Museum bought her best-known work, a cherrywood head of a Masai warrior. Much in need of money, she accepted a teaching job in 1934 from Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. There she got a reputation for her eccentricities because she covered her work in progress with black cloths and was highly verbal in her criticism of her own work.

In 1944, she left Spelman College and returned to Providence, Rhode lsland where she worked as a domestic servant for twenty years. A few of her sculptures are in that area, but she was so poor her last employer paid for her funeral.


This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Her works are located at:
Rhode Island College, Adams Memorial Library (Special Collec.):
ACCESS RESTRICTED. APPOINTMENT REQUIRED
1. Terracotta face mask, guilded
2. Watercolor/chalk sketch [untitled]
3. Watercolor/chalk sketch [untitled]
4. Watercolor/chalk sketch [untitled]
5. Watercolor/chalk sketch [untitled]
6. Watercolor/chalk sketch [untitled]
7. Watercolor/chalk sketch [untitled]
8. 4 pencil sketches
9. Metal bust, "Silence"

Rhode Island Black Heritage Society:
1. Polychrome frieze, color--heads of four women (on extended loan to Newport AM)

RISD:
ACCESS RESTRICTED. APPOINTMENT REQUIRED
1. Carved wood head, "Discontent" (1920's) (acc.# 30.019)
2. Carved marble head, "Silence" (1920's) (acc.# 30.092)
3. Carved wood head, "Negro Head" (20th c., before 1927) (acc.# 35.780)

Source:
Unveiled: a directory and guide to 19th century born artists active in Rhode Island, and where to find their work in publicly accessible Rhode Island collections
by Elinor L. Nacheman


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Nancy Prophet is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Black American Artists

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