A Woman to Know: Pixie Colman Smith

Learn from everything, see everything, feel everything! — Pamela Colman Smith

(image via Wikimedia)

The Star, the Hanged Man, Death and the Knight of Pentacles. The Chariot, the Three of Cups, the Three of Wands and the Empress.

These now-iconic tarot images were created by Pamela (known as "Pixie" to her friends) Colman Smith, a Jamaican-British "psychic artist" of the early 20th century. Before she crafted these mystical pieces, she wandered New York as a painter, costumer, set designer and political activist. The renowned photographer Alfred Stieglitz helped get Pixie her first gallery show in 1907, and celebrities like even collected some of her originals, but her work remained a bit too mystical for the mainstream — she told Stieglitz she often painted "visions" that visited her as she listened to music.

Pixie's obsession with fringe spiritual study extended beyond the art world. She and her husband joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a gathering of early 20th century bohemians drawn to the occult. There, Pixie first met Arthur Edward Waite, a poet and mystic. When Waite and his publisher William Rider collaborated to bring the now-ubiquitous Waite-Rider tarot deck to market, they commissioned Pixie to hand-draw each image, for what she then wrote was "very little cash." Pixie herself later left the Hermetic Order and converted to Catholicism. She returned to England and ran a vacation house for priests, but she struggled with money. When she died in 1951, much of her remaining art was auctioned to pay her debts.

Now, the Rider-Waite deck is often sold as the Waite-Smith deck, to honor Pixie's work and her spiritual fascinations.

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