This swank illustrated biography commemorates the 140th anniversary of the birth of Pamela Colman Smith (1878–1951), a British-American artist best known as the illustrator of the Rider-Waite tarot deck. The book opens with an overview of Smith’s life that focuses on her creative endeavors outside of the visual arts, including her founding of the literary magazine The Green Sheaf. While studying at Pratt Institute in New York, Smith was known for performing plays in her “miniature theater” to the delight of her fellow students and teachers. Later sections pay particular attention to Smith’s creative process and the design influence of the tarot deck: the flat look and tilted stance of the figures are inspired by Japanese art, and certain poses of the tarot figures are mirror copies of Christian art. Beautiful reproductions of Smith’s work in bold saturated colors fill nearly every page of the book and are accentuated by archival material including photos of her miniature theater performances and pages from her journals and sketchbooks. Together, the text and illustrations make for a stimulating entryway into the imaginative world of a nearly forgotten illustrator. (July)
Impressively informed and informative, exceptionally well organized and presented, beautifully showcasing the work of an amazingly talented artist with flawless reproductions of her art craft, "Pamela Colman Smith: The Untold Story" is a unique and inherently fascinating read from first page to last. A welcome and long overdue introduction of a truly remarkable metaphysical artist, "Pamela Colman Smith: The Untold Story" will prove to be an immediate and enduringly popular addition the personal reading lists of all tarot reading enthusiasts, as well as community and academic library Metaphysical Collections in general, and the History of Tarot supplemental studies reading lists in particular.
—Helen Dumont, Midwest Book Review
Pamela Colman Smith: The Untold Story is the most comprehensive, devotional, and poignant tribute to Pamela “Pixie” Colman Smith we’ll see this century. It’s a magnificent treatise and homage no tarot lover will want to miss. The Untold Story is the sum total of knowledge, research, data, and documents we have on the artist behind the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck and her works. Perhaps its greatest accomplishment is how it has brought Pamela Colman Smith to life. You’ll get to know her life and works, her family, her art, her interests, her personal spirituality, her quirks, and her multifaceted personality.
The Untold Story is an investment piece you’ll want to get, especially if you’re an RWS tarot aficionado. It’s a full-color hard cover volume of 440 pages, with over 400 color images from Stuart Kaplan’s private collection, reproductions and scans of the many papers and memorabilia from Smith’s life, letters, sketches, personal documents, and a wealth of rare archival material from museums and libraries around the world. You get all that in a beautifully bound matte cover book, with gold inlay lettering, a tome that will hold a special place in every tarot reader’s collection.
—Benebell Wen, author of Holistic Tarot
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. 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 folktales 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. 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.
In the spectacular “Pamela Colman Smith: The Untold Story” (U.S. Games Systems) four scholars — Stuart R. Kaplan, Mary K. Greer, Elizabeth Foley O’Connor and Melinda Boyd Parsons — celebrate the career of a major book artist and costume designer. Still, Smith will be forever revered for the hermetic images that she and 1890s occultist A.E. Waite devised for the modern Rider-Waite Tarot deck. T.S. Eliot’s fortunetelling Madame Sosostris apparently used Smith’s “wicked pack of cards” and so deserves the admonitory last word: “I do not find the Hanged Man. Fear death by water.” — Michael Dirda, Washington Post