Detail from Photograph of Pamela Colman Smith

Our August 2014 poll tested your knowledge of Pamela Colman Smith (1878-1951).

Most of you knew that she illustrated the Rider Tarot (89%), more than half of you knew she was a member of the Golden Dawn (51%), and some knew her nickname was Pixie (40%), that she wrote and illustrated other books (40%), but only a handful of you knew she lived in Jamaica (37%).

Rider Tarot Deck, illustrated by Pamela Colman SmithFor some reason Smith’s contributions to today’s most popular tarot deck often get overlooked in favour of Arthur Edward Waite, who commissioned the deck and wrote the accompanying book, The Pictorial Key to the Tarot. Despite the disparaging comments Waite made about Smith in his letters, she did her own research, and found source images that Waite would not have been familiar with.

By the time Smith began working on the images in 1909, she was already involved with the Golden Dawn (she joined in 1901), was widely read, familiar with music and theatre (she painted sets, among other things), was active in the Catholic church, and was, as Waite described her, an “abnormally psychic artist.”

In addition to her paintings and set design, she illustrated a number of children’s books, broad sheets, wrote and illustrated Jamaican fairy tales, and numerous others.

The Smith family moved frequently due to her father’s job, and she lived in London, Kingston and New York City. While her family called her Pam, she was known to her friends as “Pixie” Smith.

A handful of biographies have popped up in recent years, but my first in-depth introduction to Pamela Colman Smith’s history and her work was through Stuart R. Kaplan’s The Encyclopedia of Tarot, Volume 3. (If you’re interested in tarot history, I highly recommend the richly illustrated four volume set.)

Who else gets overlooked that we should be talking more about?

Image credit: Wikipedia

2 COMMENTS

  1. Pixie was awesome. I gobbled up the book about her that came with the Pamela Colman Smith commemorative Tarot.

    Another person who almost got forgotten was Paschal Beverly Randolph, but there are some sources about him recently.

    i also get the impression that Frederick Hockley did a lot more for the Victorian Occult Revival than just copy grimoires.

    • Great suggestions!

      I don’t (yet) know as much as about Randolph as I’d like, but I can try to work on something, unless maybe you can suggest someone else who might be better positioned to write about him for Spiral Nature?

      And I don’t know much of anything about Hockley, besides seeing his name (very occasionally) referenced. Again, know anyone who’d be a good source? If not, I’ll add this to the next round of suggestions for the writer newsletter.

      Thanks!

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