Exploring the career and legacy of the artist Nancy Elizabeth Prophet, whose sculptural figures embody her uncompromising sovereignty over her work and life
This book offers a nuanced and comprehensive presentation of the life and work of Nancy Elizabeth Prophet (1890–1960), whose figural sculptures in wood, marble, and bronze combined the aesthetic concerns of modernism with the beaux-arts tradition. An artist of African American and Narragansett ancestry, Prophet was the first known woman of color to graduate from the Rhode Island School of Design. Though she studied portraiture, she produced a body of evocative sculpture conveying atmosphere and emotion rather than depicting individuals.
Through original essays, catalogue entries on Prophet’s major works, and an illustrated chronology of her remarkable life, this book reframes Prophet’s powerful work and legacy. Contributors trace the artist’s transatlantic career, from Parisian ateliers to Spelman College, and consider topics such as the art institutions Prophet navigated, the stylistic connections between her figurative sculpture and the work of her modernist contemporaries, her Afro-Indigenous heritage, and how she resisted predetermined conceptions of her cultural identity. Demonstrating how Prophet continues to inspire a new generation of artists and viewers today, contemporary artist Simone Leigh assesses her shared practice with Prophet, who offers a model of fearless devotion to her work.
Published in association with the RISD Museum
RISD Museum (February 17–August 4, 2024)
Brooklyn Museum of Art (March 14–July 13, 2025)
Spelman College Museum of Fine Art (August 27–December 6, 2025)
Sarah Ganz Blythe is deputy director of exhibitions, education, and programs; Dominic Molon is interim chief curator and Richard Brown Baker Curator of Contemporary Art; and Kajette Solomon is social equity and inclusion program specialist, all at the RISD Museum.
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