Mar 12, 2009

Pamela Coleman Smith And The Rider-Waite Tarot

Pamela Colman Smith, the woman best known for her art behind the Rider-Waite tarot deck, was born on February 16, 1878 at 28 Belgrave Road in Pimlico, Middlesex, now London. Her father, Charles Edward Smith, was an American merchant from Brooklyn and was related to actor William Gillette, who was best known for his role as Sherlock Holmes. Pamela's mother, Corinne Colman, was Jamaican and came from a very artistic family of painters.

In June of 1899, Pamela set about making a name for herself as a writer and illustrator. Her first published works were illustrated books based on Jamaican folk tales, including: Annancy Stories (1902), a story about the traditional African folk figure (Anansi the Spider.) As a published writer and artist, Pamela gained access to the artistic and literary circles of London, and was introduced to the poet William Butler Yeats.In 1903, while illustrating some of his work, Yeats introduced her into the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn just as the order was beginning to break up.It was here she first came into contact with Arthur Edward Waite and the Rider-Waite tarot was born.

Pamela Colman-Smith during her lifetime was a women who didn’t seek notoriety, nor did she seek fame, all she wanted was to be recognized for her talents as an artist. She never married. She had no known heirs or family except for the elderly long time female friend and companion who had shared her life for the past 40 years. When she died on the 18th September 1951, Pamela was penniless and her life’s work obscure. There was no funeral procession to honor her life and no memorial service to evaluate the impact her work would have upon future generations. Her grave site, if one exists, remains unknown.

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