Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Pamela Coleman Smith and Alfred Stieglitz

Last week I was asked to do a Tarot card reading as part of a performance for the end of  an Art Symposium. Unfortunately I was unable attend. It led me to learn more about the woman responsible for this very well known Tarot deck. I have been reading Tarot cards for approximately three years now. I was amazed to find out that Pamela Colman Smith was a very talented artist with a very fascinating life. Here is the write up on one of the cards I have in the deck I purchased four years ago.

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

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

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

Around 1903, she joined the Order of the Golden Dawn. In 1009, under the guidance of Arthur Edward Waite, she undertook, for a token payment, a series of seventy-eight allegorical paintings described by Waite as a rectified tarot pack. The designs, published in the same year by William Rider and Son, exemplify the mysticism, ritual, imagination, fantasy, and deep emotion 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.

She 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. There was no one funeral procession to honour her life. There was no memorial service to touch upon the impact her work  would one day have upon her admirers. She died disappointed that her paintings and writings failed to achieve success, yet she never stopped believing in herself. 

Pamela Coleman Smith would have all but be forgotten except for the seventy-eight tarot paintings known as the Rider-Waite Tarot pack. She would no doubt be astonished and gladdened to know that today the deck touches the hearts and emotions of millions of people.''

I found it to be intriguing to learn that Pamela Coleman Smith was friends with William Yeats and had done art work for him. As well she was the first woman artist to have her painting shown by American Photographer and Modern Art Promoter, Alfred Stieglitz, in his gallery, Little Galleries, which up until this point only photographs where ever exhibited.
Her successful show marked a turning point between the old era of Stieglitz as revolutionary promoter of photography and new era of Stieglitz as revolutionary promoter of modern art.

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