tarot_scholar: An image of Norman Rockwell's interpretation of Rosie the Riveter (Rosie)
[personal profile] tarot_scholar
The woman to whom all modern Tarot readers owe their hobby received a pittance for her artwork and died in debt, unknown outside her circle of bohemian friends.

Just so you know.

I mean there's more I could say, but someone else has already done an excellent job writing a comprehensive biography of her, so I will link to that and use this space to share some brief, notable facts. If you don't follow that link or remember anything else I mention here, remember that thanks to prevailing Victorian attitudes (read as: patriarachy, white supremacy), Smith never received the credit, money, or prestige she should have for her work on the groundbreaking Rider-Waite-Smith deck.

Unfortunately she has no direct descendents that could possibly benefit from her work (US Games estimates that, were she given her proper royalties, her estate would be worth millions today), so I guess the best we can do is remember to call the deck the RWS deck instead of just the Rider-Waite. Or maybe just Waite-Smith, as they did the work; Rider was just the publisher.

Anyway, here are some brief facts about Pamela Colman-Smith!

First of all, she was a cutie patootie and seems like she would have been a vibrant and interesting person just to know:

What a smile! She went by the nickname "Pixie" which I imagine suited her quite well.

Colman-Smith was born in 1878 to a British father and a Jamaican mother, their only child. She spent her early years in Manchester, then in Jamaica, until finally studying art in Brooklyn. While we remember her today for the RWS Tarot deck, Colman-Smith was engaged primarily in set design for the theater. She also became involved in the women's suffrage movement and illustrated pamphlets on the topic.
Additionally, Colman-Smith illustrated a handful of books: a rare copy of Bram Stoker's Lair of the White Worm, Ellen Terry's The Russian Ballet, The Book of Friendly Giants by Eunice Fuller, Seumas McManus's In Chimney Corners: Irish Folk Tales, The Golden Vanity and The Green Bed, and two books she wrote herself: Widdicombe Fair and Anancy Stories. Widdicombe Fair commands a 4-digit price on Amazon, but Anancy Stories is easy and cheap to find.
Colman-Smith was a member of the Golden Dawn in her own right. (I was always under the impression that she was just a random artist Waite had simply contracted out to. I don't know why. But in case anyone else was under that misconception, I thought I'd clear it up.) Outside this occult group, many of her friends were the movers and shakers of the early 20th century.

After this explosion of work in the turn of century, records of Colman-Smith dwindle until her death in Cornwall in 1951. She was in debt and her belongings were auctioned off. Hopefully among them is a well-preserved journal or diary that will one day be found and help clue us in on those missing thirty years of her life!

Date: 2015-03-01 02:45 pm (UTC)
jenny_evergreen: (Jenny 11)
From: [personal profile] jenny_evergreen
She's so CUTE!

Date: 2015-03-01 11:01 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] tarot-scholar.livejournal.com
Usually in photos from this era people look very "distant" and historical, but there is something alive and modern about her expression. I think that is part of the charm; you feel like you could see her in a cafe or on the street today!

Date: 2015-03-01 11:37 pm (UTC)
jenny_evergreen: (Jenny 11)
From: [personal profile] jenny_evergreen
Yes!

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