Person    | Female  Born 16/2/1878  Died 18/9/1951

Pamela Colman Smith

A British-American occultist, artist, illustrator, writer and storyteller. Most famous for the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot, first published 1910, she created the standard classic deck of the English-speaking world. For many years ‘Pixie’ Smith lived in Parc Garland, Cornwall with her life partner, Nora Lake. Their living room had as its centre-piece a large stone fireplace in the art-deco style, which is now installed at Treadwell’s Bookshop in London.

We transcribed the following text from a small information panel displayed on the fireplace.

She was born February 16, 1878, in Middlesex, England, of American parents. Her childhood years were spent between London, New York and Kingston, Jamaica.

During her teens, she travelled throughout England with the theatre company of Ellen Terry and Henry Irving. Thereafter, she took up formal art training at the Pratt Institute of Brooklyn, graduating in 1897.

Although American by birth, she returned to England, where she became a theatrical designer for miniature theatre and an illustrator, mainly of books, pamphlets, and posters.

Around 1903, she joined the Order of the Golden Dawn and began to paint visions that came to her while listening to music.

In 1909, she undertook a series of seventy-eight allegorical paintings described by Arthur Edward Waite as a rectified tarot pack, including full scenes on every card. The designs, published in the same year by William Rider and Son, exemplify the mysticism, ritual imagination, fantasy, and deep emotions of the artist.

Despite occasional art shows and favorable reviews by critics, the continued slow sales of her works and rejections by commercial publishers left her deeply disappointed.

Smith never married. She had no known heirs except for an elderly female companion who shared her flat. She died on September 18, 1951, penniless and obscure. Much of her work has never been found.

Pamela Colman Smith would be all but forgotten except for the seventy-eight tarot paintings known as the Rider-Waite Tarot pack. She would be astonished and gladdened to know that today the deck touches the hearts and emotions of millions of people.

Reprinted from the Encyclopedia of Tarot, Volume III, by Stuart R. Kaplan.

 

She was born at 28 Belgrave Road, SW1. During her life she had connections with: Ellen Terry, Henry Irving, Bram Stoker, W. B. Yeats, Jack Yeats, And Arthur Ransome.

 Atlas Obscura give the background to the Tarot cards: "A. E. Waite was commissioned by the Rider publishing company in 1909, to produce an assortment of mystical playing cards. Both Waite and Smith were members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a 19th-century secret society that was passionate about the examination and application of the supernatural. Waite approached Smith to provide artwork that would illustrate the various symbols and imagery associated with each card. ..  Smith received only a moderate commission. It is only recently that she has received more recognition, with the deck now being referred to as the Rider-Waite-Smith edition."

CNN have an article on Smith which includes images of some of her other artworks. Wikipedia have a full entry for her.

This section lists the memorials where the subject on this page is commemorated:
Pamela Colman Smith

Commemorated ati

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