Celebrating Black Creatives: Pamela Colman Smith

Pamela Colman Smith (1878 - 1951) also known as "Pixie," was a prolific illustrator, author, poet, publisher, and theater designer who spent her entire life painting, drawing, and writing her own way.

Active in the English and New York arts scenes at the turn of the twentieth century, Pixie surrounded herself with friends such as stage actress Ellen Terry and her daughter Edy Craig, John Yeats, son of writer W. B. Yeats, stage actress Maude Adams, whose most popular role was Peter Pan, and Bram Stoker, author of Dracula.

Although Smith earned very little for the project, in 1909 she was commissioned by occultist scholar and poet Arthur Edward Waite to create 80 paintings that would be used to illustrate the most popular tarot deck to date, the Waite-Smith tarot. You may also know this deck as the Rider-Waite-Smith or the Rider-Waite, as Rider was its original publisher.

Pamela Colman Smith’s work and influence are important because she contributed so much to the arts and tarot scenes, yet she has long gone uncredited. Even amongst her closest friends, Pixie was regarded as peculiar and unusual because of her dark skin, wide nose, and slanted eyes, features that I believe are beautiful physical attributes and should be celebrated.

Although Pixie’s true ethnicity is unknown, we do know that her parents were from England and Jamaica, and it's clear through photos and historical accounts that she was a woman of color. Because of such, she was often underappreciated. I appreciate the contributions made to the world of tarot by Pamela Colman Smith, and in celebration of #BlackHistoryMonth I'm honored to introduce her to you as one of my favorite artists and the voice behind the world’s most popular tarot deck.

I was thrilled to see Pixie get her very own tarot card! This illustration is by artist and tarot deck creator James Boyle.

Here's another example of Pamela Colman Smith's work in my The Tarot Diagnosis mug. This piece, "'Do you not see them?' Diedre, Act II, The Green Sheaf, 1903, Supplement to No.7" is featured on one of the bonus cards included in the borderless Smith-Waite deck, my favorite everyday deck.

Photo credit: Kaplan, S. (2018). Pamela Colman Smith, the Untold Story

Recommended Reading

On Writer Wednesday, I’m starting another series called Tarot Stories. Throughout this year, I will share a story inspired by each of the cards in the major arcana, starting with the Fool and concluding with the World. For a refresher on the major arcana, read my post Writing Arcana: The Fool’s Journey.

The Card(s) of the Day:

In her more than thirty years as a storyteller and visual designer, Amanda “Mandy” Hughes has written and designed over a dozen works of upmarket, literary, and women’s fiction under pen names A. Lee Hughes and Mandy Lee.

Mandy is the founder of Haint Blue Publishing Company, LLC, an editing and design service that helps indie writers grow in their craft and achieve their self-publishing goals. Although she earned a Bachelor and Master of Science in Psychology, she has yet to figure out her family, much less herself.

When she’s not writing, Mandy loves going to the movies, theater, traveling, nature walks, birdwatching, margarita-making, and binge-watching The Office. She is a tarot enthusiast who uses the cards to promote wellness and enhance creativity. She lives in Georgia with her husband and four boys, two of whom are furrier than the others (but not by much). Visit her website at haintbluecreative.com and follow her on Instagram @haintbluecreative.

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