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Colman Smith001 copy

Photograph by Alice Boughton from the Brooklyn Life magazine, January, 1907. Thanks to the Brooklyn Public Library for a better resolution photograph than I was able to get previously.

PCS-Metropolitan Magazine 1907

Drawing by Pamela Coleman(sic) Smith in the Metropolitan Magazine, 1907.

PCS-first print

from American Printer and Lithographer, vol. 31, 1900.

“A young designer, whose work has considerable interest, is Miss Pamela Coleman Smith. Miss Smith was a student of Pratt Institute, in Brooklyn, where her work, especially in coloring and decoration, attracted attention. She was a tireless worker and produced a great many posters, prints and designs, all peculiar for the wealth of decorative detail and the strength of the coloring. Among other labors of love, Miss Smith designed for her mimic theatre the entire scenery and costumes for eight plays, the text for which she wrote herself. This work showed a marvelous study of costume and great ingenuity and invention. After leaving Pratt much of her work was published by R. H. Russell, notably her color drawing for the play, “Trelawney of the Wells.” In the same line was her work with Irving and Terry for subjects. This latter attracted the attention of Miss Terry. The actress became interested in Miss Smith and when she left for England took with her the young designer. While I know nothing of the plans of either Miss Smith or Miss Terry, it is interesting to think that Miss Smith may be added to the staff of the Irving-Terry company as a sort of official designer, in the same way that Alphonse Mucha is the staff artist and designer of Sarah Bernhardt in Paris. Here is reproduced probably the first design for which Miss Smith was paid. It is an illustration of AEsop’s fable of the “Crow and the Pitcher,” and the original is in three printings—green, red and black. The noticeably weak point in Miss Smith’s work is the lettering. In fact, it is the weak point of all students of Pratt Institute. Good as is that school of design, under the management of Arthur B. Dow, no provision is made for teaching the principles of good, strong, vigorous characteristic and individual lettering. Amateur designers, and in fact many professional designers, do not understand the importance of lettering. The lettering should be a part of the design, not simply an interruption or an impertinence.”

I just had to add this additional piece from The Reader: An Illustrated Monthly Magazine, September, 1903, p. 331-332. (note: date corrected).

PCS-1904 The Reader Magazine

MISS Pamela Coleman Smith was born of American parents in London, where her father was at the time engaged in business. On both sides her forebears exhibited in some degree the tendencies which have brought Miss Smith to the front in literary and artistic circles. One may say that from her mother she derived an intense, individual creative desire, which very early in life began to satisfy itself in a curious sort of drawing, later developed into the style already so well known, especially in England. While she was still a child the family removed to the island of Jamaica, where she lived seven years. During the time her chief diversion, outside her drawing, was learning the West Indian negro folk-tales. A volume of this folk-lore was later published by Harper & Bros.; among her other activities in London are her readings from this collection. It is easy . to understand the grace of original composition in one so thoroughly imbued with the simple naturalness which characterizes the style of all spontaneous popular tales, lyrics and ballads.

Two years’ study at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N. Y., followed this period. As no noticeable change showed itself in the character of her work under this tutelage, and as she became more determined to work out her own problems in her own way, she ended her connection with the school and shortly went to London, wehre she became identified with the Celtic movement. For some time she contributed regularly to “The Broad Sheet.” With the beginning of the present year, however, she started a paper of her own, called “The Green Sheaf,” of which thirteen numbers will be published annually. This she edits. To it also she contributes poems and illustrations in color. Herein lies the most striking feature of her work. For, whereas in outline the influence of the pre-Raphaelites is very evident, her colors and color-schemes are all her own. Though fantastically fanciful and in a way impossible, the Mendings always please. From recipes which she has evolved, she herself “prepares many of the unusual shades which she employs, adding more individuality to the general effect thereby. “It is very interesting to see her,” says one who knows, “dressed as ‘Gelukiezanger’ in parti-colored, gypsy-like gown and with beaded hair, sitting in Turkish fashion on the floor of a drawing-room, reciting her outland tales full of their queer conceits and unpronounceable names.” She is an indefatigable worker, enthusiastic and rapid.

We reproduce two of Miss Smith’s drawings published in “The Green Sheaf” (colored, of course) at the time Sir Henry Irving was giving his farewell performances at the old Lyceum Theatre, now being torn down.

The following apologia appears on the cover of ” The Green Sheaf “:

“My Sheaf is small . . . but it is green.
I will gather into my Sheaf all the young fresh things I can—pictures, verses, ballads of love and rear; tales of pirates and the sea.
You will find ballads of the old world in-my Sheaf. Are the)—not green for ever . . .
Ripe ears are good for bread, but green ears are good for pleasure.”

PCS-illus The Reader Sept. 1903

PCS-Henry Irving led on by Courage

With these later news articles it becomes apparent how much of Pamela Colman Smith’s work has been lost. We find a tendency among the reporters to “damn with faint praise” as Pixie moves out of the realm of neighborhood parlour entertainment and begins to be taken seriously by people like Alfred Stieglitz—always dangerous for a woman of the time. I’ve placed Pixie’s paintings-to-music here rather than in my 1907 post (when she began exhibiting them) because these news articles are more slanted toward her musical works. See also this article in Current Literature on “Pictured Music.”

Stieglitz purchased quite a few of Pixie’s paintings, which Georgia O’Keefe sold off separately soon after he died—despite his desire, stated in his will, to keep them together—amid some speculation that a decades-old jealousy was involved. The Delaware Art Museum has a few in of her works in their collection and produced an exhibit in 1975 curated by Melinda Boyd Parsons (she wrote the catalog and has an unpublished biography of Smith), also shown more recently in Santa Fe. Virgin of CzWe now know for certain, from the article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, that Pixie split up her drawings for the Tarot deck, bringing some of them to the US. In what attics might they still reside? 

Demonstrating Pixie’s evolving Catholicism, we find a series of works called the “Litany of Loreto,” described as “byzantine” and taking their names from the call-and-response list of titles given the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1587: Spiritual vessel, Mystical rose, Tower of David, Tower of ivory, Morning star (see below in Latin). This poster featuring the Holy Virgin of Czenstochowa (c. 1915-18) is the only hint we have of what the “Litany” paintings may have been like:

czenstochowa

“strong and full of the mystic, impressive power”
Mon., Mar. 18, 1912

Red Cloak

Schumann’s “Doubt”

Pamela Coleman Smith, a Brooklyn artist who made a name for herself early in her career at the Pratt Art Department, is exhibiting “drawings suggested by music, paintings on silk, and other original work” at the Berlin Photograph Company, Manhattan. There are twenty paintings on silk, framed like water colors and her handling of the material is very clever, having much of the strength of water colors, added to the softness of the silk texture. Five pictures exemplify what Miss Smith’s ideas of five Debussy compositions are: “L’Isle Joyous,” Gardens in the Rain,” “The Little Shepherd,” “What the West Wind Saw,” and “Snow is Dancing.” The first two pictures are in the Japanese style, largely, and have gorgeous color schemes. Less fantastic is “The Tree of Dawn,” suggesting an aria, by Mozart; it is the best of the paintings, full of tempered imagination and fine in color. “The Little Shepherd” is charming and natural. When Miss Smith does not give her fancy full rein, she is more enjoyable purely and simply. There is a fine sense of rhythm and swing to her pictures. When the drawings have the merest touches of dark, for example, there is a freedom and action about them which is impressive. “Spring Carried by Showers,” suggesting an aria, by Arthur Foote, and “People of the Rain” are two interesting paintings; in the first the goddess is carried in a litter by personified rain columns, and in the latter, rain people are suggested by falling masses of rain; they are two most attractive designs. “Dancing Trees,” and “Rain Passing Through a Valley.” both inspired by Dvorak music, are tree forms and rain forms, made into figures, cleverly and charmingly. “Snow is Dancing” and “Cloud Faces” are two more nature studies in which faces look out at you from the contours of snow and cloud. “The Ship of Dreams” and “Dreams Returning Home” (Nachstuck), the latter by Schumann, are very different, one being a fantasy and the other a realistic theme where dream people are shown returning home up a hill, toward its top, where a figure stands unfurling a flag. “Ruined Temples and Spilt Wine,” “Seven Towers of Fairy,” “Blue Smoke” and “Phantom Inn” are other color pieces. Designs for the “Litany of Loretto” are: “Vas Spirituale,” “Rosa Mystica,” “Turris Muideca,” “Turris Eburicca” all weird and mystical. A Caesar Franck Prelude has suggested a woman with a paddle in a foreground of rushes an a man in the distance with a paddle. 

Hamlet is not a musical reflection but is strong; the snow drifts around the Dane and his ghostly father. “The Call to Earth” is a Caesar Franck idea, and is clever and imaginative, but most persons will prefer to retain their own impressions of what music suggests rather than exchange them for other’s thoughts. Some of these sonatas, arias and symphonies are highly descriptive, suggesting “Dancing Cloud,” “Ruined Temples and Spilt Wine,” “Seven Towers of Fairy,” “Blue Smoke” and “Phantom Inn.”

Beethoven's Symphony #5

Beethoven’s Symphony #5

The drawings are strong and full of the mystic, impressive power. Miss Smith’s conception of the “Appassionata Sonata” is a swanlike figure, huge and having the face of a woman, billows and turrets, or they may suggest trees, to some observers. The Mozart music themes are interesting as the dress of the time, figures in the drawing. A Schumann symphony suggests a swaying, giant woman’s figure and a background of trees. Miss Smith takes violin concertos, fugues, quartets and other musical divisions to make pictures about. “E Tourdine” shows Debussy’s music suggesting two figures bearing heavy burdens. Strauss music suggests a bold and mystical drawing to Miss Smith.

The designs for a set of Tarot cards are excellent. “Page of Cups,” “Page of Pentacles,” “Ace of Swords,” “Nine of Swords,” “ Five of Cups,” “Four of Wands.” Several hand colored prints are included in the exhibition: “Alone,” “Charles and Annie,” “The Recitation” and other designs.
—  The Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Cards brought to US by PCS, 1912.

Drawings brought to US by PCS, 1912.

“an imagination of no common order”
Sun. Mar. 17, 1912

Henry James has called music “the great dissolvent,” but after looking at the exhibition of drawings “suggested by music” at the Berlin Photographic company signed Pamela Coleman Smith, one is inclined to think the precise opposite. Miss Smith’s lines seems to quicken into creative activity when she listens to music. The sound waves set her pencil weaving strange arabesques and always to a distinctly recognized rhythm. She is nothing if not rhythmic. Mr. Birnbaum tells us that the artist makes her designs in the concert room. But we hasten to assure those to whom this mixing of the sister arts is incomprehensible that these drawings qua drawings may be enjoyed without their musical genesis obtruding itself. If Miss Smith is affected by music and produces work of such a distinctive delicacy, charm, subtlety, why that is her own psychology. Certainly some of the Debussy illustrations are as satisfactory as their tonal originals. Debussy thinks so himself, owns and admires an entire portfolio.

“Snow is Dancing” is truly an evocation in which the decorative impulse looms large; “Garden in the Rain” is lyric. “People of the Rain” betrays true fantasy; indeed, fantasy rules these singularly attractive paintings on silk and all the drawings. Since Miss Smith first exhibited at Mr. Stieglitz’s Photo-Secession Gallery she has much improved technically. Her line is less crabbed, more firm and sweeping; her color sense is warmer. Naturally these memoranda are never welded into a whole. Miss Smith has yet to make a composition. She has a preference for ultramodern music, possibly because of its indeterminate form, its raporous melancholy and its rhythmic variety, yet she can ring in a virile manner the changes on Beethoven as exemplified in the Appasionata Sonata op 57. Her water colors are exquisite notations. Let us suggest that the entire collection be taken at its face value, artistically speaking, without troubling over the evasive correspondence of tone and form. Theophile Gautier’s poem, “Correspondences,” might serve as a general title for the entire exhibition. The designs for the Litany of Loreto—Rose mystical, Turris Davidica, Turris eburnea and Stella matutina—demonstrate an imagination of no common order. They are decorative, spiritual and with a touch of the hieratic that may be noted in Byzantine art.
— The Sun (New York)

PCS woman mountain

Overture. “Egmont” Beethoven, 1907

“we must not take these very personal expressions too seriously”
Mar. 17, 1912

“Illustrating Music”

pcs - BlueCatwatercolorw

The Blue Cat, 1907

Pamela Coleman Smith is exhibiting at the Berlin Photographic Company’s gallery a group of drawings made to music. Her method is simple. She is not a musician and the laws of structure and harmony known to the composer are not in her mind. While she listens to music she draws lines suggested by the emotion the music causes. Sometimes they are long and slow, sometimes broken and staccato, sometimes whirling, sometimes curly and rococo, and the observer recognizes in some of them his own impressions while listening to certain movements.

It is a guileless art rooted in the great truth that all arts meet somewhere on common ground; but too much easily could be made of it. Miss Smith is sensitive to inspiration and delightfully suggests spontaneous feeling. Many a well-trained painter fails to do this. On the other hand, a painter as well grounded in his art as the musical composers illustrated in this charming exhibition are in theirs would probably not interrupt the rhythms of his line so inadvertently as we frequently find them interrupted here. Three dancing figures twining in swift movement are to the laymen very inspiring, but an artist would feel impatient at noting a stiff little square made by four unnecessary accents of dark among the flowing rhythms, which only means, of course, that we must not take these very personal expressions too seriously.

Miss Smith has given pleasure in a very quaint and personal manner. In a few of her drawings she communicates a genuine thrill, and all are well worth seeing for a quiet half hour. In her paintings, several of which are also on exhibition, she shows anew her fine sense of color. Her hilltop with a sky full of the tints of dawn and the figures of dreams trooping homeward is a rare piece of color and a lovely little fairy story.

All the work, drawings, and paintings alike illustrate childlike feelings and imaginings, and have a sweet, old-fashioned freshness of style, a simplicity of thought not often to be found in public galleries. Children love Miss Smith’s drawings because they retain the sparkle of childish fantasy.
— New York Times

PCS-Unlocking the Door-2

See also:

• Pamela Colman Smith: “out of the heart of the Heights”
Pamela Colman Smith 1896-1899
Pamela Colman Smith 1907 – story teller
Pamela Colman Smith 1909 – magic spectacles
• The Art of Pamela Colman Smith
Pamela Colman Smith on Reading the Cards

• Biography of Pamela Colman Smith (biographical resource)
Roppo’s Gallery for the artwork of Pamela Colman Smith

pcs - initial I

N NOVEMBER of 1909, Pixie wrote Alfred Stieglitz that she had “just finished a big job for very little cash!” These were the black and white designs for a pack of Tarot cards. She also mentions her painting, “The Wave.” Along with her trip to New York (described below), 1909 proved to be a very busy year for her. Her artwork was featured three times from 1907-1909 at Stieglitz’s 291 (Photo-Succession) gallery. Here’s a comment on her first exhibit back in 1907:

“Stieglitz decided to shake things up, and he did so by mounting the first non-photography show at the gallery in January, 1907. This is notable because it signaled the beginning of Stieglitz’s role as a pioneer promoter of modern art in America. The show, drawings by artist Pamela Coleman Smith, initially attracted little attention, but after a prominent critic praised the work it became the best attended exhibition to date. A substantial number of the works were sold, and interest in the show was so strong that it had to be extended eight days.” [wikipedia summary of Robert Doty, Photo-Secession: Photography as Fine Art (Rochester, NY; George Eastman House, 1960) p. 43.]

I’ve featured images that go best with these newspaper articles. The next post, although later than the 291 exhibits, shows more of her paintings to music.

pcs - women in sea

“a belief in fairies and goblins”
Thu., Mar. 25, 1909

BroadSheet#6 - Version 2Imagination in art was the general theme of a novel lecture by Pamela Colman Smith under the auspices of the Pratt Art Club delivered Tuesday night in the Assembly Hall of Pratt Institute on Ryerson street. Miss Smith labeled her informal illustrated talk “Magic Spectacles,” and devoted it principally to “people interested in art.” Quite a large number of people, mainly art enthusiasts from Brooklyn and Manhattan, where her work is greatly admired, greeted Miss Smith and gave close attention as she elucidated the force of imagination as expressed in the paintings of the foreign artists. She described and illustrated examples of French, Italian, Chinese and Japanese art and showed that in each case the imagination of the artists predominated to a large degree. Miss Smith recited in the dialect, stories of folklore and fables of Jamaica where she lived for seven or eight years. She proclaimed a belief in fairies and goblins, which she said existed when her imagination could be set to work. After her lecture, Miss Smith, who was formerly a Pratt art student, held a brief reception and met many of her friends. Her works are now on exhibition in Manhattan and have attracted a little attention.
— The Brooklyn Daily Eagle

BroadSheet#7 - Version 2

“a little Kat Greenaway girl”
Sat., Mar. 27, 1909

BroadSheet#4 - Version 2At the Macbeth Gallery there were such interesting personalities as Janet Scudder, the clever young sculptor, and Pamela Colman Smith, who created such a furore by her recitation of old West Indian folk stories when she came over from England with Ellen Terry a year or two ago. Miss Smith is a niece of George Colman, an American artist, who spent most of his life in Italy. Recently she has been holding a “one man” exhibit at the Photo-Secession Galleries [Stieglitz’s gallery]. Of particular interest on this side of the river is this singularly gifted woman, for she is a niece of the late Mrs. Samuel Howard of Amity Street, and there are still many on the Heights who remember her mother, a brilliant young woman, especially clever in private theatricals which were often given at the Howards residence forty years ago. The well-bred crowd at the Macbeth Gallery was too polite to stare at Miss Smith as she made her rounds, but when she left the room one heard many inquiries as to who that remarkably picturesque little woman could be. Her gown and coat were long and floppy and of a sort of pussy-willow gray. On top of her curly coal black hair she wore a high-crowned gray hat, which in place of a brim, had a box pleating of bottle-green ribbon. When she entered the room you felt as if a little Kat Greenaway girl had suddenly been endowed with life and walked right out from the covers of a book.
— Brooklyn Life

BroadSheet#9 - Version 2

PCS-Chimney Corners Fairy

What does he see but the fairy.

Most of the illustrations here are from The Green Sheaf (1902). I also included the painting that I believe is called “The Wave,” and “What Does He See But the Fairy” from In Chimney Corners (1899).

See also:

• Pamela Colman Smith: “out of the heart of the Heights”
Pamela Colman Smith 1896-1899
Pamela Colman Smith 1907 – story teller
Pamela Colman Smith & “De Six Poach Eggs”
• The Art of Pamela Colman Smith
Pamela Colman Smith on Reading the Cards

• Biography of Pamela Colman Smith (biographical resource)
Roppo’s Gallery for the artwork of Pamela Colman Smith

“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.]

Pamela Colman Smith portrait-large

Collection of S. R. Kaplan, Further reproduction prohibited!

“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, Annancy Stories-children listeningthe 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, Yeats by Alice BoughtonMiss 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

PCS-ChimChim back cover lg - Version 2

“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

Sketch of PCS telling storiesMiss 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.]

PCS-The Lamp 1903

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”.

 

See also:

• Pamela Colman Smith: “out of the heart of the Heights”
Pamela Colman Smith 1896-1899
Pamela Colman Smith 1909 – Magic Spectacles
• The Art of Pamela Colman Smith
Pamela Colman Smith on Reading the Cards

• Biography of Pamela Colman Smith (biographical resource)
Roppo’s Gallery for the artwork of Pamela Colman Smith

Young PCSPamela Colman Smith, called “Pixie” by her friends, was born to American parents on February 16, 1878 in London, England and died September 18 1951, at the age of 73 in Bude, Cornwall. Despite her lasting connection with England, throughout her youth she called herself an American, attending the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn from 1893 to 97, then touring with Ellen Terry and Henry Irving’s Lyceum Theatre, and visiting the US frequently after that. She worked in the theatre, struggled to make a name for herself as an illustrator, explored the occult, was a suffragette and then, just before WWI, converted to Catholicism and retired with a modest inheritance to run a priest’s retreat in Cornwall. Except for a few small items, mostly for friends or relatives, her public artworks and appearances ceased.

Later this year Marcus Katz and Tali Godwin are bringing out a book focusing on Pamela’s contributions to the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot deck: Secrets of the Waite-Smith Tarot. In the meantime, I’m pleased to present the texts of several newspaper articles from Pamela’s hometown. I would hesitate to include some of these for their lack of detail about Pixie herself, but they are helpful in letting us know her movements and hinting at her then current endeavors.

“a pretty and fanciful design”
Sun., May 24, 1896

Miss Pamela Coleman Smith of Pratt had a pretty and fanciful design showing a group of fairies dancing around a toadstool, a sort of midsummer night’s dream affair. Another poster by Miss Smith was most originally worked out. A child picking tiger lilies beside a pool where her reflection was cast was the subject. The color was most effective. [18-year-old PCS shows her work at a local art show.]
—The Brooklyn Daily Eagle 

“exceedingly suggestive”
Sun., Dec. 19, 1897

The fair held by the Art Student’s Association, on the afternoon and evening of December 18, was a financial success as well as a social one. The great attraction, both afternoon and evening, was the play given in Mis Pamela Coleman Smith’s little pasteboard theater. A study in composition, the successive pictures made by the pasteboard figures against an artistic background were exceedingly suggestive. The demand for tickets was so great that three performances were given in the afternoon instead of one, as first planned.
—The Brooklyn Daily Eagle

“old Irish folk-lore”
Sun., Dec. 25, 1898

Among the holiday publications of R. H. Russell & Co. are a series of color prints, by Pamela Colman Smith, one called “Recess” depicting children at play, the others illustrating some passage in literature.

Hill of Heart's Desire

Hill of Heart’s Desire

One illustrates a quotation from “Macbeth,” a second is a scene of “Twelfth Night” merry-making, a third deals with the childhood of Christ, and a fourth illustrates “The Land of Heart’s Desire,” a play of old Irish folk-lore.

—The Morning Times (Washington D.C.)

 

“Whatever is quaint and old worldliest . . .
And all this is the work of a mere girl!”
Sun., Jan. 15, 1899

“A Jamaica Spider”
He is the Hero of Miss Smith’s New Book

Jeanne_D_Arc_Boutet_de_MonvelAn American Boutet de Monvel*, a woman with as keen an appreciation of negro folk lore as Joel Chandler Harris is the correctest way to define the talent of a quaint little American woman who claims the authorship of one of the cleverest books of the day. Miss Pamela Coleman Smith talks of the “Annancy Stories—Folk Tales of Jamaica,” with keen interest. [*Boutet de Monvel references a French children’s book illustrator – click to enlarge the picture to right. Notice hats like those found on the 2 and 6 of Pentacles.]

“I am an American,” she insisted, “though I was born in London, and have lived most of my life in Jamaica, and all the art training I have I got at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.”

She had a three years’ course there, and then with the most amazing industry, prompted by a strong, deep love of her art, she began to work at art as a profession. Perhaps one of her first most successful endeavors was done only for fun, and it consisted of the building and peopling of one of the completest miniature theatres ever seen. HenryMorganSceneThe stage measures scarcely more than eighteen inches square, but its accompaniment of scenes, actors and costumes is so perfect and luxurious that any manager might look on enviously. Three hundred gorgeously costumed characters will appear in a single play for the dramas Miss Smith writes herself, and as she prefers tragedies and comedies the scenes of which are all laid in past centuries, the humblest pasteboard sure is in attitude, expression and dress a finished little picture. By the simplest mechanism the figures are made to move about, a daintily painted curtain rolls up and down, and the scenes are set or shifted with professional cleverness.

While working at the theatre, merely to amuse youthful relatives, she turned her hand to larger work, and having collected a number of the legends current among the negroes of Jamaica, she set out to illustrate her book. The volume of Annancy Stories was the outcome, which is illustrated by twenty-two full-page pictures from Miss Smith’s hand, beside the cover design, which is her own work.

Chim-Chim-8 - Version 2Annancy is a perfectly new character in fairy lore; he is a spider who possesses a mother, and he is as beloved an elf among the Jamaica negroes as is Brer Rabbit among the negroes of our Soutern Sates. In the quaint dialect of the simple island blacks, Miss Smith has told the stories while she has looked straight into fairyland to find the models for her pictures. [The hand-colored picture on left is from a later book called Chim-Chim.]

With the most astonishing invention, imagination and humor she has pictured a series of strange, alluring little people, who cannot fail to win the childish heart, and at the same time delight appreciative grown folks. Indeed it is very safe to say that Annancy and his capers will become as familiar with nursery folk as Uncle Remus, or Mougli and his friends. And all this is the work of a mere girl!

From illustrating her book of Jamaica stories, Miss Smith next fell upon a collection of old English and Scotch ballads, and it is here that the likeness of her genius to that of Walter Crane is apparent. Whatever is quaint and old worldliest seems to find in her a natural affinity.

“I never look up a costume, and yet I seem to know exactly what every character should wear,” she explained when some one inquired where she had found her quaint suits and dresses. From the ballads her quick fancy next found a limitless field in Shakespeare, and her second book is a Shakespearan alphabet made up of full-page illustrations of characters whose names run from A to Z, accompanied by their most brilliant sayings. Here, as in the first book, is the same lively imagination, love of striking but always essentially decorative color effects and unfaltering innate knowledge of costume.

shakespelg

Miss Smith is an American girl to be proud of and one whose future can be reckoned on as surely as a love of industry, and her art and a very great deal of talent and ambition can guarantee it.
—The Morning Times (Washington D.C.)

See also:

• Pamela Colman Smith: “out of the heart of the Heights”
Pamela Colman Smith 1907 – story teller
Pamela Colman Smith 1909 – magical spectacles
Pamela Colman Smith 1912 – correspondences
• The Art of Pamela Colman Smith
Pamela Colman Smith & “De Six Poach Eggs”
Pamela Colman Smith on Reading the Cards


• Biography of Pamela Colman Smith (biographical resource)
Roppo’s Gallery for the artwork of Pamela Colman Smith

“She has always been strange. There is not a page of her life, not an incident, that is not overflowing with romance.”

Pamela Smith in Private Live 1904

I’ve just discovered a lengthy article about Pamela Colman Smith in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. New York, Tuesday, November 1, 1904. It gives many details of her large Brooklyn family (much of which I’ve left out) and describes her in terms of a hometown girl. Accompanying the article was this photograph of PCS as a very young girl.

“Winsome Witchery in London Drawing Rooms”

“Remarkable Success of a Height Girl in folk-Lore Tales”
“A Remarkable Personality”
“Pamela Coleman Smith, Closely Related to Many Prominent Brooklyn Families, and Her Strange Career”

In London drawing rooms the enthusiasm and the fashion of the hour is Pamela Coleman[sic] Smith, who, in a brilliant frock of orange with a red turban, sits on a board with two lighted candles in front of her and tells before crowds of delighted people weird and strange folklore tales of Jamaica. [Note: incorrect spelling of Colman.]

“While she tells the stories of ‘Annancy,’ the spider-man, or of ‘Recundabundabrumunday,’ the witch, whose very mention sends joyously fearful shivers through the little Jamaican children,” says The Lamp, “or while she recounts the clever tricks and quaint sayings of “Gingy Fly,’ the blue bottle, she manipulates little figures cut from pasteboard and gaudily painted, that play a part in the weird legends.”

Pamela Coleman Smith is a [Brooklyn] Heights girl, and perhaps the most remarkable personality of any young woman who has sprung from that conservative body of families of high Brooklyn rank. Author, artist, designer, very nearly actress, mystic, and now public entertainer, brought up as a child in the West Indian Island of Jamaica, living among the artists in Manhattan and stage folk in London over many of her thirty years, she is yet close kin to a number of old Brooklyn households. Nearly related to her are the descendants of the Samuel E. Howards of South Brooklyn; Mrs. George Norman, Bryan H. Smith, Theodore E. Smith and Mrs. Willis L. Ogden of Pierrepont Street, and the William Coleman Howards of the Hill.

Highly unconventional and full of mystery in her art, as well as in her life, a wonderful colorist and excellent suggester of gown groupings for stage pageants, a most ungirlish individuality, yet full of curious attraction, Pamela Smith seems at last to have reached great success. Her book of folk-lore and her books of drawings in color never sold; in the theater she was but a strange woman scarcely on the boards at all, but as a whimsical tale teller she has all fashionable London at her feet.

Pamela Smith’s life has been a series of dramatic jumps. She was born in England; as a very young child she lived in Jamaica, and there, under the entire charge of a Jamaica negro nurse, she made long visits at more than one Heights house, she went to Pratt Institute, she lived in the old “French” apartment house in Manhattan, a famous edifice of glossily polished floors that is known as the very first of New York apartment houses; she attracted the attention of Ellen Terry and Sir Henry Irving, and went abroad with them. Both here and abroad she actually made her home with Miss Terry, who was fascinated with the strange and talented girl, and found her artistic ideas of the greatest value. Irving called her, “Ellen Terry’s little red-headed devil.”

There could be no greater contrast to the ordinary dainty young Heights girl, of pretty manners, of normal tendencies, conventional ways and the usual ambitions. Yet were an Ihpetonga to be danced to-day, Pamela Coleman Smith, this odd artist-mystic girl, would be trebly qualified for its inmost place.

Her name in full is Corinne Pamela Coleman Smith (“Mela”). She is now between 27 and 28. She got the name of Corinne from her mother. Those who believe in the inheriting of traits through parents will find ample confirmation in this girl. Her father was artistic to his finger tips, her mother one of the very cleverest Brooklyn amateur drawing room actresses of her day. Her mother’s brother (beside all this) was among the greatest of American artists, at one time a president of the National Academy, Samuel Coleman. . . . Pamela Smith’s wonderful ability as a colorist undoubtedly comes from this uncle of hers, who stands high among American painters and is best known for his paintings of Moorish architecture and Venetian vessels. He studied in Algiers and also has a great American reputation as a decorator. He and Louis Tiffany were for many years closely allied in artistic work, as well as being fast friends, and did many notable things together, among them the decoration of the Vanderbilt mansion. Charles Smith, artist rather than business man, hardly met with the material success of his brother. Living much of the time in London, at one time he represented in New York a very famous English firm of decorators—Nichols, Coleslaw & Co.

Altogether, in this young woman, who is the distinguished success of London private houses, there are a score of interesting chapters of personal Heights history. [I’ve cut several paragraphs enumerating all her relatives, past and present.]

With such connections and forebears Pamela Coleman Smith could scarcely fail to be a notable girl. What is so astonishing is that she should have developed along these extraordinary lines. Much of it is possibly due to her childhood spent in Jamaica, which seems to have filled her with negro mysticism. She has always been strange. There is not a page of her life, not an incident, that is not overflowing with romance.

Everywhere since her babyhood days a quaint old negro mammy has accompanied her. One of the earliest stories that is told of her is the pastime of her childhood of making little theatre, of writing plays and of managing puppets. Of ordinary education she has none. She is first remembered in Brooklyn as coming up from Jamaica a half grown girl, full of strange ways and unconventionalities. She had undoubted art talent, but could not be induced to study along regular lines. The two winters she spent at the Pratt Institute it was found absolutely impossible to hold her down, fetter her or even guide her. Some of the best American artists, on seeing her work, said that she could not be curbed in any way or she would accomplish nothing.

In Brooklyn she was always a curious figure, far removed from the ordinary girls’ point of view. She even dressed strangely, with a love for bizarre and barbaric colors. They often had her in visits at the Howard House, but she was a bird of passage, both before and after her father’s death. In the ordinary fashionable households she could not be happy. Part of the time she was visiting in Brooklyn, part of the time in apartments here, now in a studio apartment across the river. At one time Alice Boughton, who, as was told in the Eagle some months ago, has recently scored great triumphs in photography, lived with her. But Pamela Smith found no charm in even the life of art, as it is best known.

Her metier was to lie in bed until midday, to do all her painting and designing under artificial light. It was not until she came across Ellen Terry that she found real solace. How she attracted Miss Terry’s attention is a story that has never been told, but she did this very thing and Terry took such a fancy to her that both here and in England she actually lived for months with this English stage queen.

She did a book of wonderful color studies of Irving and Terry, a stage souvenir for which Brown Stokes wrote the letter press. Several other “picture books” in color are to her credit (besides her little book in black and white, “Annancy Tales”), “Widdicomb Fair,” pictures to a famous English pastoral song, “The Golden Vanity,” “The Green Bed.” Artists are enthusiastic over the marvelous color of these pictures, which betray extraordinary genius, but these books have never met with popular approval or had anything of a sale. her drawing has been called bad, but it is not only odd, unusual, with a touch of the grotesque, the wandering of figures quite untrained.

Kipling could not say too much about this young woman when he met her. Arnold Dolmetsch, the musician, was no less full of praise and enthusiasm. It is one of the most interesting things in Brooklyn life that such a personality should have come out of the heart of the Heights.”

See also:

• Pamela Colman Smith 1896-1899 – an American girl to be proud of
• The Art of Pamela Colman Smith
Pamela Colman Smith & “De Six Poach Eggs”
Pamela Colman Smith on Reading the Cards
• Biography of Pamela Colman Smith (biographical resource)
Roppo’s Gallery for the artwork of Pamela Colman Smith

 

From the Nelson Evening Mail (New Zealand) for 4 May 1907, in a column called “Weekly Whispers” we find this rare account of Pamela Colman Smith (thanks to LoRee):

“Miss Pamela Colman Smith, who made such a success in London a year or two ago as a storyteller, is now enchanting America with her quaint art. She recently entertained Mark Twain, and he was so delighted that he laughed like a child the whole time. In the weird dialect of the Jamaican negroes—a sort of cockney English with Spanish colouring, a rhythmic rising inflection at the end of each sentence, and barbaric words and idioms sprinkled through it that must have come directly from the voodoo worshippers of the African jungle—she tells fairy folk-tales of “de long ago before time, when Queen Victoria didn’t yet rule over we.”

“This is her story of “De Six Poach Eggs,” which tickled the author of “The Jumping Frog.”

“‘A man stop at a cookshop fe someting to eat, an’ dey bring him six poach eggs an’ he eat dem, an’ he say him don’t got any money to pay fe dem; but would come back an’ pay when he find him fortune. So after twelve years him stop an’ pay six-pence fe de eggs he had eat twelve years before. But de keeper of de cookshop say it was not enough, dat if de man had not eaten de eggs dey would have grown up to chickens, an’ de chickens would grow up to hens, an’ de hens would lay more eggs, an’ dey would grow to chickens, an’ dat de six eggs would be worth more dan sixty pounds, not six pennies! De man say he would not pay any more dan six-pence. An’ de cookshop-keeper say he mus’! An’ so he take de man to de judge, an’ de judge didn’t know what to say. While he was t’inkin’ a little boy came in de courthouse. An’ him hab a bag under him arm, an de judge say, ‘What you got?’ An’ de boy say, ‘Parch peas, sah.’ ‘What you goin’ to do wid it? An’ de boy say, ‘Plant it, sah.’ An’ de judge say, ‘But parch peas won’t grow.’ An’ de boy say, ‘An’ poach eggs won’t hatch!’ De man didn’t have to pay. De boy got him reward, though, an’ was rich before him go away with Death. Dis story prove that ‘No catchee, no habie.’” Miss Smith was born in London of American parents, and was brought up as a young girl in Kingston, Jamaica.”

See my collection of links to material by and about PCS – here.

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