I Didn't Hear Nobody Pray

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    Photo: Stephen Pitkin/Pitkin Studio
Found wood, cowrie shells, plastic beads, and paint
54 x 40 x 20 inches
Collection of
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco museum purchase American Art Trust Fund and gift of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation

Bessie Harvey frequently drew artistic inspiration from her Christianity. I Didn’t Hear Nobody Pray, created from a twisted tree trunk, depicts a kneeling female figure with her hands clasped in prayer, and a small infant emerging from her side. Harvey viewed trees as spiritual in their own right, observing, “Trees is soul people to me. I have watched trees when they pray and I have watched them when they should, and sometimes they give thanks slowly and quietly. They praise God.”

Harvey’s title is derived from and African American spiritual from the slavery era, “I Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray,” in which the singers lament their solitary and seemingly hopeless journey through life to death: “In the valley / I couldn’t hear nobody pray / On my knees / I couldn’t hear nobody pray / With my burden / I couldn’t hear nobody pray / And my Savior / I couldn’t hear nobody pray.” —Timothy Anglin Burgard