Pamela Colman-Smith, nicknamed Pixie, a twenty-two-year-old American citizen living in London was going through an existential crisis. On this day in November, Smith needed money to market and fund a publishing company that featured a cutting-edge magazine called “The Green Sheaf.” Pixie, like the Peter-Pan in her illustrations, began to feel that her friends had stopped believing in her.
Pixie began doing illustrations for stage and costume design as a child living in London. His mother was a successful children’s picture book writer. His father traveled regularly between Brooklyn, Jamaica, and London as an auditor for an Industrial Finance Corporation that owned the Jamaica Railroad. Hellen Terry, a famous Shakespearean stage actress and co-founder of the Lyceum Theater, was her neighbor. Terry became a mentor and gave the energetic dark-haired and dark-eyed boy the nickname Pixie. The family lived in Jamaica during Pixie’s teenage years.
Facing racial problems in New York, Colman-Smith felt that London was his best option for a career. Pixie left Pratt College in Brooklyn in 1899 and traveled to London with her father. Her father died that same year leaving her an orphan. Pixie’s first client network emerged through her association with Terry and the Lyceum Theater group. His career skyrocketed. His first illustrated publication of African-Jamaican folk tales, Annancy Stories, was a success. She continued to build her client network through small poetry plays and storytelling at her home. His list included famous playwrights, authors, poets, and actors of the time. He excelled in theatrical set design and costume design. His clients were amazed at how easily he could make an illustration from the thought they were trying to project. If you think it’s easy, give it a try. Soon you will change your mind. He was able to monetize his synesthesia. That is watching pictures while listening to music. Everyone has that, up to a point, but hers was extremely advanced. His fans loved the intellectual tingle his art evoked.
Although she was the daughter of the second industrial revolution, her illustrations excluded everything related to the mechanical age. She was always willing to share her knowledge and experience with other artists. He advised them to have the same energy that drives a piston.
His client list included the most successful playwrights, writers, poets, and theater artists of the early 20th century. In his innocence, he felt that his clients were his friends. Pamela Coleman Smith was unable to obtain a small business loan. It was impossible at that time. No one would lend money for a business owned by a woman, especially a business owned by a single woman. They paid him commissions.
Smith started publishing and used everything he had as a lever to make it work. It had the best content and images from the most respected artists in its client network. He continued to do the set design and invested the commissions in the magazine. Her graphics were now attributed to Green Sheaf School, indicating that Pixie had a good understanding of Market Branding techniques. The young woman had worked in the Commercial Art industry as an illustrator since childhood and had a deep understanding of the latest technology.
With no funding for modern equipment, she was forced to use a centuries-old technique for the binding process. It was quaint, but Smith’s business plan called for Avant Garde. The subscription rate did not meet expectations. The business was undercapitalized. It failed after 13 issues. Pamela Coleman Smith closed it. Poor fool, she was in the bottom line.
Once he became fiscally stable again, his career changed direction. He completed a major project that would become the defining project of his career. Complete artistic control was guaranteed. A huge project, it consisted of 80 illustrations for the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck, accurately illustrated, delivered in 6 months. The project was delivered on time, within budget, to the complete satisfaction of the author, Arthur Waite. The deck sales were a great success. The only recognition Pixie got was a line in Waite’s accompanying book, “I commissioned a young woman to do the illustrations.” That was it. No waste, no intellectual property. In a letter to his business partner, Alfred Stiglitz, of the world-famous Stiglitz Studio, said of the project: “It was a great project for very little money.” What contractor has not made the same statement once or twice? No one knows how much Pixie left on the table, but Waite had a reputation for stinginess and the contract was verbal.
Pixie ran away from her Golden Dawn friends after that. He went on to make fantastic illustrations for the Shakespearean Theater and for its publication, but at the press scale. She became very involved in women’s suffrage. Publishers are wary of the danger of an angry male population. He did a lot of work for community works projects, such as international aid agencies and veteran programs. Her uncle from Brooklyn died and left her enough inheritance to help her escape the rat race and move as far away from London as possible and remain in England. He moved to the town of Lizard in Cornwall. That is the area that was known to have the highest concentration of goblins.
Her last visit to the United States was when she visited a friend in Brooklyn in 1946. A devout Catholic, she died in 1951. Her name and ideas faded in ancient times.
In the Tarot deck, The Fool does not have a number, he does not belong to any suit, he can go anywhere. The fool is a free spirit who always appears unexpectedly. This is what happened to Stuart Kaplan of US Games in 2009 when he published the Centennial edition of the Rider Waite Smith deck. He sells more than 1.5 million decks each year, most of them as Christmas stocking fillers. That makes Pamela Colman Smith the most successful illustrator of the 21st century.