Artist Nancy Prophet

Nancy Elizabeth Prophet was the first female African American graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design. Born in 1890, Prophet graduated in 1918. Think of the resolve and determination it took just to apply. This compelling work, Negro Head, was executed some time before 1927 and is now on display at the RISD Museum.

Nancy Prophet modeled this realistic wooden portrait after her husband, Francis Ford, employing the purposeful exposed tool marks that are distinctive to her body of work. A Rhode Island native, Prophet carved the sculpture when she was living in Paris and working primarily in dark hardwoods, a material which here allowed her to enhance the stern, meditative, bold lines of her husband’s face. Prophet described this piece as representative of her own “determination and aggressiveness” as an artist.

More at the Mapping Arts Project:

She became a known Harlem Renaissance Sculptor and lived in New York, Paris, and Atlanta, before returning to Rhode Island. . . Prophet’s work was exhibited in Paris and received notable attention. In 1932, she returned to America and began teaching at Spelman College and then Atlanta University in 1939.

Local museum and black history resource, Stages of Freedom, has more at their “On the Rhode to Freedom” page. In 1920, Prophet lived at 62 Benefit Street with her father and the aforementioned Francis Ford, her husband.

She later lived at 306 Benefit Street around the back.

The Mapping Arts Project entry ends with this sad note:

Prophet returned to Rhode Island in 1945 and struggled to build a profitable career and with no connections and little money, she began to work in domestic service. In 1978, work was displayed as a portion of the “Four from Providence” exhibit at the Bannister Gallery of Rhode Island College.

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