“Once in a long before time before Queen Victoria came to reign over we . . .”
This post features newspaper articles from Pixie’s 1907 visit to New York where she concentrated on presenting her Jamaican folk tales along with recitations of old English ballads and poetry by Yeats. Waite made it clear that “one other” had helped in the creation of the Tarot deck and from the accounts in these papers it is clear that she knew Yeats well. Separately I’ve learned that around this time she performed some recitals with Florence Farr, who taught Tarot to Golden Dawn initiates. [Note: please get permission from Stuart Kaplan at USGames who owns it before using a reproduction of the painting below.]
“never in the least bound down by the traditions”
Sat., Jan. 12, 1907
Miss Pamela Colman Smith, some of whose very interesting pictures are now being exhibited across the river, at 291 Fifth avenue, has recently returned to this country, after several years spent in England. Miss Smith had a studio in Chelsea, where she accomplished some quite remarkable work in the color schemes displayed in the late Sir Henry Irving’s and Beerbohm Tree’s stage settings. Miss Smith is a special protege of Ellen Terry and she has designed many of the most beautiful costumes worn by that actress. Brooklynites will always have a sort of proprietary claim to this interesting young woman, her parents having lived for many years in this borough. Though she commenced to draw pictures as soon as she could hold a pencil, Miss Smith’s artistic career really started at Pratt Institute. Never in the least bound down by the traditions of any conservative master, who was, supposedly, instructing her, she calmly used their studios as convenient workshops. Absolutely original, with a wonderful, almost garish, sense of color, Miss Smith’s pictures represent not so much what she sees, as what she feels. After an evening spent at the opera or concert, she will sometimes work all night, not illustrating the music she has heard, so much as the thoughts suggested, and these paintings she calls musical symphonies. In the current exhibition a group of Shakespearean studies is very interesting, but her series of “Impressions of New York”—the huge skyscrapers, the smoky atmosphere, the crowded streets, and the night effects—are the more remarkable. Like many others of an artistic temperament, Miss Smith is too versatile to confine herself to one kind of work. As a sort of side issue, she gives recitals of Jamaica folk stories, and old English ballads, dressed in the costume of the people and time she represents. Often in the most gorgeous colors and wearing strings of many hued brilliant beads and astonishing arrangement of head-gear, Miss Smith tells her stories seated flat upon the floor, with candles as footlights. She has been in great demand, both in London and here, especially as an entertainer at children’s parties; for all youngsters plainly adore her. [Picture from my copy of Annancy Stories.]
— Brooklyn Life
“rare knowledge of dramatic values”
Sat. Jan. 26, 1907
Under the auspices of the Pratt Art Club, Miss Pamela Colman Smith gave an extremely interesting recital at the Institute las Saturday evening. While telling her Jamaica folk stories, Miss Smith sat upon a low platform with her feet tucked under her, and a row of half-dozen big fat candles before her to serve as footlights. The room was darkened and the young narrator presented a very picturesque figure gowned in a loose robe of flame colored silk, with an arrangement of tulle and beads bound about her head like a kerchief. Her capital West Indian dialect rendered the stories all the more piquant. In a charming recital of old English ballads, this clever artist dressed the part in soft gray and white with a quaint cap; while in her tragical odd lilting of a group of poems by William B. Yeats, Miss Smith again showed her rare knowledge of dramatic values by wearing a long dark green cloak with hood drawn close about her face, and only one nervous hand visible. [This intriguing photo of Yeats was taken by Pixie’s former NY roommate, Alice Boughton.]
— Brooklyn Life
“quite exceptional brilliancy and absolute originality”
Sat., Feb. 9, 1907
Possibly the best number on the program—certainly the greatest novelty—was furnished by Miss Pamela Colman Smith, who gave Jamaica folk stories. Having passed many years on that island, Miss Smith is conversant with the correct Jamaican costume and has acquired a capital West Indian dialect. Gowned in old rose cashmere, with deep black fringe, and wearing beads about her neck and chiffon twined about her bead to represent a kerchief, Miss Smith sat flat upon a small round table with her feet tucked beneath her gown and a row of half a dozen short fat candles at her knees to represent footlights. An artist of quite exceptional brilliancy and absolute originality, Miss Smith knows the value of every gesture, every smile and every inflection. The Entertainment Club, nearing its majority, can surely be congratulated upon its twentieth celebration. [PCS at The Entertainment Club. Image below from ChimChim, my collection.]
— Brooklyn Life
“thoroughly unconventional femininity”
Sat., Feb. 16, 1907
One successful young woman leading almost too strenuous a life for this chronicler to keep tab on, is Pamela Colman Smith. She has not only given recitations at the Fine Arts Club, Pratt Institute, the Pen & Brush, and Mrs. Hitchcock’s Entertainment Club, but has appeared at numberless private houses, both here and in Boston, was at the Brooklyn Barnard Club on Tuesday, and will tell her Jamaica Folk Stories before the Associate Alumnae of Packer, within the next fortnight. Even with the prestige of English approval, Miss Smith’s instant success here is a bit unusual. I think it is largely due to her absence of all pose; queer, unexpected, absolutely original as Miss Smith is, one realizes her unmistakable genuineness as well as appreciates her talents. She is a gentlewoman, presenting an odd type of thoroughly unconventional femininity—therein lies her greatest charm.
— Brooklyn Life
“the favorite reader of London drawing rooms”
Sun., Feb. 24, 1907
“Miss Pamela Colman Smith Furnished Delightful Programme at Midwinter Gathering”
Pamela Colman Smith, the favorite reader of London drawing rooms, furnished a delightful program of Jamaica folklore, fairy tales and troubadour ballads given in most artistic manner and with a fascinating accent which Miss Smith acquired through intimate acquaintance with the people whose folklore she has brought to this country. Her costumes added to the good effect—a red dress with black fringe, one in green and white stripes, and a dull blue troubadour cloak. Candles burned in front of her during the telling of the stories. . . . An alligator brought by Miss Smith from Jamaica was an attractive exhibit.
— The Brooklyn Daily Eagle
“rendering Yeats’ ballads”
Sat., Mar. 2, 1907
Miss Pamela Colman Smith was chief attraction at the reception of the Associate Alumnae of the Packer Collegiate Institute last Saturday afternoon. The readings were held in the chapel and Miss Smith, who made perhaps her most favorable impression in her rendering of Yeats’ ballads, was very well received.
— Brooklyn Life
“a bewitched pudding and Mr. Ringdalee”
Sat., Mar 23, 1907
Miss Pamela Colman Smith mounted the platform carrying her foot-lights, a pine board bearing four fat yellow candles. These she lighted and spreading out the folds of her voluminous pink cashmere skirt and bestowing a pat to her turban, sat on the floor behind them and gave three of her quaint Jamaican folk stories which the negroes tell to one another and the nurses to their white charges. with the quaint phrase of “Once in a long before time before Queen Victoria came to reign over we,” prefixing each of her selections she told her attentive audience about a spider, whose name refused to stick in the writer’s memory, a bewitched pudding and Mr. Ringdalee, who married a pigeon.
— Brooklyn Life
[Note the mentioned platform, the bird (known as Chim-Chim) and an extra costume in the picture below – only the candles are missing. The little squiggle to the right of Pixie’s signature is Annancy, the spider.]
Read this account of Mark Twain’s laughter at one of Pixie’s performances, picked up by a New Zealand paper. It contains the text of one of her stories and a more detailed account of her story-telling: Pamela Colman Smith & “De Six Poach Eggs”.