Pamela Colman Smith
Author: Stuart Kaplan
Artist: Pamela Colman Smith
U.S. Games Systems, Inc.
There has been some grumbling in the Tarot community about “Do we really need another Rider Waite/Waite-Smith deck on the market?” I look at this from another perspective – I am very happy that someone is showcasing Pixie Smith’s work, especially someone that has the wherewithall to do a first class job!
The commemorative set includes a complete deck (renamed the Smith-Waite Centenial Edition Tarot deck, and reproduced from the original 1909 deck, from Stuart Kaplan’s personal collection), two books – The Artwork & Times of Pamela Colman Smith (by Stuart Kaplan), and a reformatted version of the Pictorial Key To The Tarot (by Arthur Edward Waite), a 5” X 7” photo of Pamela Colman Smith, three 5” by 7” artwork reproductions by Pamela Colman Smith, six color postcards featuring artwork by Pamela Colman Smith, and a spreadsheet guide with three Tarot layouts (a five card Love Spread, a three card Reltionship spread, and a ten card spread called the Woven Spread – a variation on the traditional Celtic Cross spread.
All of this comes in a sturdy box that opens like a book, with the Smith-Waite Centennial Edition Tarot deck (in a blue organza bag with light blue ribbon) on one side, and the books, post cards and pictures on the other side. The Pictorial Key To The Tarot has been redone with stiff cardboard covers, but is text only – no card scans. The post cards showing Pixie Smith’s work are truly a gift – done in color, with glossy faces, and including a beautiful take on the Empress.
The heart of this commemorative set, to me, is Stuart Kaplan’s book “The Artwork & Times of Pamela Colman Smith”. I cannot think of anyone better suited to write this book – it is a true gift to the Tarot world. It has given me great joy to wander through this work – looking at a picture here, reading a paragraph or two there. Sitting down to read it straight through was like stepping into another world.
Kaplan has featured an extensive selection of Pamela Colman Smith artwork that lies outside the realm of her Tarot work. It gives us insight into Pixie as a person – who her friends were, who she collaborated with, and what inspired her. In his introduction, Kaplan notes that Pixie Smith was an accomplished designer who worked in the theater with Ellen Terry, as well as a recognized illustrator of children’s books (including her own “Annancy Stories).
On the down side, her publishing efforts with ‘The Green Sheaf” and “A Broad Sheet” were not financially successful, even though she was praised by critics and reviewers alike, and was exhibited by Alfred Stieglitz in his New York art gallery to rave reviews.
This year, 2009, marks the Centenniel of the first publication of the Rider-Waite deck. The Pamela Colman Smith Commemorative Set is in recognition of the work of a talented artist who has perhaps not received the credit that she should have.
The book begins with an excellent photo of Pixie Smith, and a short biography. Of interest to me was the backdrop to Smith’s own interest in mysticism and the occult – which Kaplan indicates may have come from her mother and her relatives, who were followers of the mystic philosopher Swedenborg.
Every single page of this book was incredible – on one page we see a cover illustration for William Gillette as Sherlock Holmes, on the page facing it we see a full page, hand colored print of Ellen Terry. These are interspersed with wonderful factoids, such as the fact that Pixie Smith studied at Pratt Institute under Arthur Wesley Dow, who exposed her to the concept of “synaesthesia” – the interplay of the senses – which later influenced her music inspired artwork.
There is a wonderful illustration entitled “Gingly Fly”, a Jamaican tale transcribed by Pixie in her 1905 book “Chim Chim, Folk Stories From Jamaica”. There is an illustation of “Peter Pan”, from the Craftsman Illustrated Monthly Magazine, 1912, and illustrations from “The Lair of the White Worm”, by Bram Stoker.
Kaplan does an outstandng job of covering the life of Pamela Colman Smith – the people and the influences that surrounded her. Each step of the way he has included illustrations from her work that exemplify that time. Also incldued are interesting tid bits, such as a facsimilie of a letter in Pixie Smith’s handwriting to Alfred Stieglitz.
Pixie has the fnal word, in the form of an appendix in the form of an article that she wrote for the July 1908 issue of The Craftsman Illustrated Monthly Magazine entitled “Should The Art Student Think?”
The cards are approximately 2 ¾” by 4 ¾”, on glossy card stock. The backs show a ¼” white border, with a thin black inner border. Pixie’s initials are in the upper left hand corner and the lower right hand corner, in black. The backgorund is a light blue/grey, with the Rosicrucian Rose from the Death card in the center.
The card faces show a ¼” white border, followed by a thin black inner border. The Major Arcana show the card title across the bottom of the card. He Pips (numbered cards) show the number in Roman numerals at the top of the card, with no suit title. Pixie’s initials are in the lower right hand side of the card. The Court cards show the title and suit across the bottom of the card. The coloring is flat – perhaps to give an “antique” feel to the cards.
For me, the book on Pamela Colman Smith (Pixie Smith) alone is worth the price of entry. Kaplan has done an outstanding job of pulling together the various aspects of Pamela Colman Smith’s life and work, giving the Tarot world a much better understanding of this extremely talented woman. This set is a must have for anyone truly interested in studying Tarot – not just a collectors item, this set is for those that “walk the walk”.
© May 2009