Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Pamela Colman Smith: You've Probably Seen Her Art

Perhaps you've heard of Alfred Stieglitz.(1864-1946) He was a famous late 19th-early 20th century photographer. He owned a renowned New York gallery to exhibit his and other artists' work. He was also the mentor and husband of Georgia O'Keeffe.

While Stieglitz was personally interested in photography, he recognized brilliance in other media. He cared little about gender and encouraged talented men and women. As a matter of fact, there's a traveling exhibit titled, "Women of the Stieglitz Circle"

The exhibit features works by Georgia O' Keeffe as well as 5 other women painters and photographers. Among the featured painters is Pamela "Pixie" Colman Smith. (1878-1951)

Ms. Smith's artistic style was very popular. In 1907, Stieglitz featured her work at his gallery and nearly every piece sold. So, how did such an artist slip into obscurity? Perhaps she didn't. Perhaps many of us have seen her work - even handled it - and didn't know it was created by Pamela Colman Smith.

First, a little background. She was born and raised in England. By 1909, she was back in her native land and used a small inheritance to buy a cottage in Cornwall. She never married. She continued to take illustration commissions and to send art to Stieglitz for sale at his gallery.

She wrote Stieglitz a letter in November, 1909. In part, this is what she wrote:

I've just finished a big job for very little cash! A set of designs for a deck of Tarot cards. 80 designs.

The illustrations that Smith created are still in use on those cards today. The deck is the "Rider-Waite" Tarot deck. Also called the "Waite-Smith" or "Waite-Colman Smith" deck.

Now you know.


  1. I never even thought who might have made those beautiful illustrations. Funny how we don't consider how the art was done or who the artist was. JT

  2. First I've heard of her, too. Henry

  3. I recognized her work immediately! Fascinating to see who designed there cards!

  4. Thank you for all the information you send me. I look forward to your posts. GC

  5. Thanks GC. So glad we can stay in touch this way. RA

  6. Cool! I'd wondered about the origins of that deck. Now I know who the artist is! Thanks!

  7. Thanks Britt and Birdie for your comments. RA

  8. Even though I've used the deck for years, I never knew the artist. Thank you. Connie