Vernon Pratt went out riding on Dec. 14, five days after his 59th birthday, on a country road near the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, an artists' retreat where he'd been working on his painting. He was found by the roadside, badly injured and unconscious. Was Pratt hit by a car or did his tire twist off the edge of the pavement, sending him tumbling? We'll never know, because on Feb. 27, he died without regaining consciousness.
Pratt left a wife and children at home, as well as grown children from his first marriage, but he also left a large community in which he'd been an important fixture for decades. A professor of the practice of art in the Duke University Department of Art and Art History, he taught design and painting to hundreds of students. He was on leave from Duke at the time of his accident. Pratt was also active in the wider community, the Durham Arts Council and the Durham Art Guild. His large studio in downtown Durham held his collection of works by other artists and provided space for confabs with plenty of music.
Pratt will be remembered for his generosity to students and other artists and for his artwork, especially perhaps for the flawed but grandly conceived Education Wall (an Artworks in State Buildings project on the exterior of the Education Building in Raleigh). He'll also be remembered for his passionate love of jazz. The first time I ever saw him, he was playing his saxophone at the old Salaam Center, a club on Durham's West Chapel Hill Street where mixed-race crowds listened to music and ate Indian food in the early '80s. He adored John Coltrane, and he loved to play that sax. If there is justice in the afterlife, Pratt is wailing on a golden saxophone right now.
Donations in his honor may be made to the Emerging Artists Program of the Durham Arts Council, Attention: Margaret DeMott, 120 Morris St., Durham, NC 27701.