The time is finally right for Pamela Colman Smith's major contribution to the Rider-Waite tarot (and tarot history) to be recognized. Stuart Kaplan, foremost tarot historian, has created an exciting, 400-plus-page masterwork that elevates her to her rightful place in esoteric history. Pamela Colman Smith: The Untold Story is a must-have for feminists, art historians, and tarot enthusiasts.
—Anna Jedrziewski, Retailing Insight
Best known for providing the illustrations for the widely used Rider-Waite tarot deck, Smith was a late-19th-century traveler and polymath who’s only now, with this book’s publication, receiving acknowledgment for her full body of work. Born in London, England, to American parents, Smith spent much of her childhood in St. Andrew’s Parish, Jamaica, which led her to eventually collect and publish two books of local folk tales. She was educated at the Pratt Institute in New York City, beginning a career as an illustrator that included work in 20 books and numerous magazine articles. She was also a celebrated painter, with her art appearing in galleries throughout Europe and the United States. She also toured as a performer of folk tales and designed theater sets and costumes. By bringing together the work from different media and periods of her life, the authors present her as the multifaceted creator that she was, complete with discussions of her influences, ideals, aesthetics, and passions. The book displays photographs, sketches, notebook pages, paintings, prints, poems, and folk tales in full color, along with lengthy essays that place the works in proper context.
The book is a collaboration by four tarot experts who are all well-acquainted with Smith’s oeuvre: Kaplan, who curates the bulk of Smith’s art, folk tales, and poetry; O’Connor, who provides a detailed biography of Smith; Parsons, who offers insight and analysis on Smith’s work for the Rider-Waite deck, specifically; and Greer, who discusses Smith’s overall artistic legacy. The image of the artist that emerges in that of a woman at the crossroads of several of the most interesting creative communities of late 19th-century art: commercial illustration, the Celtic Revival, the spiritualist movement, and nascent children’s literature. From such time-honored source material, the authors argue, she fashioned a brand that was elegantly modern: “She pursued a career and did not marry or have children; instead, she surrounded herself with likeminded female friends...Pamela blended her interest in Irish and Jamaican folk tales into a personal mythology that celebrated freedom, fearlessness and independence of spirit.” The Rider-Waite tarot illustrations get their proper due, of course, but the book also succeeds in revealing Smith as an artist of larger significance. The artwork itself is beautifully rendered throughout, with many full-page, full-color prints for readers to explore. Tarot devotees will find much to appreciate, but so will fans of more famous illustrators, such as Howard Pyle, Arthur Rackham, and Maxfield Parrish. This work will hopefully help raise Smith’s profile as a true treasure of turn-of-the-century art.
A lovingly compiled art book, full of wondrous images.
The most comprehensive, devotional and poignant tribute to Pamela Colman Smith
we’ll see this century. An homage and treatise no tarot lover will want to miss.
—Benebell Wen, author of Holistic Tarot