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Precious Henshaw: The Young Nigerian-American Art Genius

Story By

Bob Inunga

When you meet Precious Henshaw, her demeanor obscures her talent. She is calm, humble, unassuming, and – with her permission – I can even describe her as shy. But when she speaks about art, her knowledge matches that of famous painters such as Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, Leonardo Da Vinci, or Rembrandt. By the time the NPM interview with Henshaw concluded, we had an overpowering sense of pride and satisfaction.

We reshuffled our lineup of Nigerians who are doing amazing things in the United States and beyond. There are so many of them, unheard and unappreciated. Henshaw captures the very reason why we started Nigerian Parents magazine – to bring you the stories of Nigerians who are doing remarkable things around the world. She is young, intelligent, and talented. But above all, she is a young Nigerian-American who decided to pursue her dreams without fear of what anyone else thinks. In order words, she has engaged the world on her own terms.

Henshaw started painting as soon as she figured out how to hold pencils, she tells Nigerian Parents. She, like Kwame – the story we brought to you last month – embodies the values that Nigerian parents instill in their children at an early age. For them, education is everything. Henshaw’s mother is a medical doctor and her father is a background investigator, and she holds an advanced degree in microbiology.

At the age of 18, Henshaw opened her first online store where she managed hundreds of sales, packaged and shipped orders, handled customer issues, and marketed her work through social media. At the same time, she studied microbiology in undergraduate and graduate school. Her hard work was what gained her parents’ approval to pursue her dreams in art. 

Like many Nigerian-American children, Henshaw has dreams and ambitions. Her short-term goal is to continue to improve on her technique in oil painting; her long-term goal is to teach art and to expand into animation and sound design. When you interact with Henshaw as NPM did, your conclusion will be just as good as ours – she is on her way to great things. You can buy Henshaw’s art through our website or directly from hers: www.byprecioushenshaw.com. When you buy a piece of Henshaw’s art, you own a piece of history. 

“Her King’s Love”
“Serenity Gaze”

NP: When did you discover your talent in Art?

Henshaw: I’ve been drawing ever since I figured out how to hold a pencil, scribbling characters in the pages of my books and on the walls. But I would say when I took my first formal painting class in 2015, and a second class in the basics of drawing shortly after, I found I was able to grasp the medium and subjects pretty quickly.

NP: It is common for Nigerian parents to have certain expectations for their children, especially for you because your mother is a physician and your dad is a background investigator; how supportive were they in allowing you to pursue your dreams?

For a long time, I cannot say I felt supported in this journey, specifically because of these expectations. Creative careers generally are not regarded with the same level of respect as careers in STEM, for example, which understandably are lower risk, have a higher chance of success after graduation, and offer more financial stability. There seems to be this idea that it is not possible to be financially successful in the arts—part of this, I’m sure, comes from a lack of knowledge about what it means to be an artist. Artists are essentially entrepreneurs in charge of running their own business. When I was 18, I started teaching myself the basics of business management and also how to diversify revenue streams, a very important part of what makes an art career sustainable. Shortly after, I opened my first online store and managed hundreds of store sales, packaged and shipped orders, handled customer issues, and marketed my work through social media, all while studying microbiology in undergraduate and graduate school. When my parents saw how well I could manage my time with my art business while still consistently being on the dean’s list, they were far more supportive. 

NP: You have some very interesting titles to your artworks. For example, “Her Kings Love,” “girasol,” “serenity’s gaze,” and many more; how do you come up with the titles? Is it part of the inspiration even before you do anything on the canvas?

Henshaw: I like using words that describe nature and that evoke an emotional response. Sometimes I know the name of a piece before I start, and sometimes I find a name after it’s complete. 

NP: These are detailed artworks; how much time do you spend on each work?

They take anywhere between 9 and 40 hours, depending on the size.

NP: You look like someone who carries a paper and pen around. Are there particular times of the day when you get inspired, or can it happen at any point in time?

Henshaw: I do get inspired randomly, and when I do, I write the idea down in descriptive words to sketch later.

NP: You seem like a sister with a goal; what do you want to achieve with your art?

My short-term goal is to continue improving my technique in oil painting; my long-term goal is to be fully self-employed, creating and teaching art for a living! I am also interested in expanding my work through animation and sound design, and I have been teaching myself both for the last few months.

NP: You are on the Nigerian Parents feature page because our goal is to continue to highlight Nigerian excellence and talent in the United States; what would you say to other Nigerian-American children like you who dream?

Thank you! I am finding that success in anything comes with much more hard work and sacrifice than I could have ever imagined. My vision of my future, and how badly I want it, needs to overpower any doubts in my mind, whether those doubts were planted by me or by someone else. As soon as I allow negative opinions or words of discouragement to get to me, the vision begins to crumble. A few things I have to remind myself are to remain strong, patient, and consistent. Comparison to other people is dangerous; this is not a race. I only focus on how I can be better than I was yesterday, and I constantly see improvement and success because of it.

NP: Would you advise Nigerian parents to allow their children to pursue their dreams?

As someone who for many years was stifled and pushed into a science career, I had no interest in, and whose mental health suffered because of it, yes, I always will. I am glad my parents are onboard with my decision now, but I think much of the discouragement from a creative career is from lack of knowledge. Instead of concluding that there is no success in a creative career, or that such a career is only based on luck, find someone who actually is successful in a creative career who is willing to be a mentor and share their journey, or research what success looks like for a creative person and how to get there. Although it takes a long time and a lot of hard work, it’s very possible.

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