Archive for May, 2015

17
May

Pamela Colman Smith

   Posted by: David    in Uncategorized

Pamela Colman Smith

220px-Pamela_Colman_Smith_circa_1912

Victorian winters in London were harsh and cold especially for the working class. Science of the time encouraged residents to keep their windows open so that even in the darkest and coldest months at least the bedroom window was slightly ajar.

The poverty of the working class contrasted sharply with the upper classes and nobility but even for the nobles the winters were frigid. The Victorians slept and lived in layers of woolen clothing. They bathed standing up, only removing that area of clothing that was the focus of the wash, one area at a time.

It was in February, February 16 of the year 1878 that Pamela Colman Smith was born. I can’t say for certain that she was born in her parent’s home in England but the likelihood is great that she was.

Her parents named her Pamela but as she grew they would come to call her Pixie.

Pixie’s dad, was of the merchant class but wealthy and successful, a hard-working man from Brooklyn New York, Mr. Charles Edward Smith, the son of a Mayor. He fell in love with the sister of the then famous artist Samuel Colman. Her name was Corinne Colman.

Does artistic talent run in families? Maybe, for certain young Pixie was exposed to art and she was exposed to travel. Her family traveled between London, Jamaica, and Brooklyn for many years.

When one travels one is exposed to the culture of different people. So it was with Pixie. As she grew she developed as an artist but also as a free thinker. She had a particular fascination with Jamaican folklore, she worked with Bram Stoker to illustrate his work, but most significantly for us, she became a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in 1901. It was through her association with the Order that she met A. E. Waite.

Waite wanted a redesigned and reimagined tarot and he needed an artist “in the know” for the task. In 1909 A. E. Waite paid Pixie a flat rate to illustrate the tarot that would become the standard by which all other tarot decks are measured.

Many believe that Pixie went far beyond Waite’s instructions to create the rich imagery and symbols that now adorn both the major and the minor arcana. When Waite hired her she was a fellow member of his the Golden Dawn but she also had a reputation as a clairvoyant. Pixie was a seer in the Victorian sense of the word, a mystic and psychic, one connected to the Great Mystery.

Some believe that it was Pixie to whom we should be grateful and not A. E. Waite, that it was Pixie whose ability not only as an artist but as a medium of higher knowledge gave us the greatest divination device in the history of humankind. But the Rider Waite Tarot as it came to be called was a Victorian invention and in the sad tradition of the Victorian era Pixie’s name would not be associated with the deck that she created until our own time.

Today we no longer refer to the deck she created as “Rider Waite” but as the Rider Waite Smith Tarot. It is Pixie’s art that serves as the foundation for almost every modern variation on the tarot including my personal favorite the Hanson Roberts Tarot.

Many tarot decks are designed by a team of a mystic thinker on the one hand and an artist/illustrator on the other. The contribution esoterically speaking of the mystic and the artist varies from deck to deck. But in the case of the Rider Waite Smith Tarot it is clear that Pixie was more than a hired hand – she was a co-creator. She was hired because she had the ability to make a contribution not only artistically but interpretively and because of her work we take for granted today that the minor arcana is fully illustrated. It wasn’t before Pixie.

Pamela Colman Smith would live to see great change, she would live to see two world wars and the advent of rock and roll. She lived 73 years crossing over on 18 September 18, 1951.

Thank you Pixie for your great gift to humankind.

Much love,
David

References:

Tarot Heritage

Wikipedia – Rider Waite

Wikipedia – Pamela Coleman Smith

The Biography of Pamela Coleman Smith