Whilst our book contains a fuller biography with lots of new research, we’d like here to offer a few clarifications about Pamela Colman-Smith from our factual research with primary source evidence. We present three facts on the life, love and death of Pamela.
1. Pamela was born of American parents in England and held at least a US passport; at the time systems were a lot less stringent than it is now for travel documentation.
We have a record of her US passport, which was counter-signed by Ellen Terry, the famous stage actress with whom Pamela spent so much time in her Bohemian Days. This is of significant interest as it shows that Pamela was still in touch with Terry up to ten years after she left that circle in her conversion to Catholicism – although she did not attend Terry’s funeral.
So despite assertions or suggestions that she was a “woman of colour” or even outright “Jamaican”, or that her mother was Jamaican, there is no actual evidence of this at this time. She was described by people who met her as “the most primitive of Americans”, “exactly like a Japanese” (Yeats), as a woman-child and in many other ways, so her looks were certainly exotic, as we can see in many photographs – including new ones of Pamela in our book.
2. Whilst Pamela never married, never had children, nor are there any records of significant relationships with men, there is no evidence at this time as to her sexuality. She had a series of strong relationships with women, and lived with a close friend in her later years. One of the women with whom she had such a close relationship was Ellen Terry’s daughter, Edy Craig, who was well-known in scandal at the time for her sexuality.
So despite assertions or suggestions, at this time, for what it is worth, there is no evidence of her sexuality other than a lack of notable record. We have an intimate photo of Edy and Pamela published for the first time in Secrets of the Waite-Smith Tarot, which certainly shows a close relationship.
3. Pamela died of myocardial degeneration on 18th September 1951, Bencoolen House in Bude, Cornwall, England. She was aged 73 and listed as a “spinster of independent means”. One person was present at her death, E. T. Bates, who is said by Kaplan to be her cleaner. Her will left her estate to Nora Lake.
You can read new discoveries about the final resting place of Pamela Colman Smith here and watch a video taken at the church.
& another thing … was Pamela recognised in her lifetime?
It is often written that Pamela died unrecognised, in poverty and obscurity. However, although at present we have few records of her later years, this only means that at present we have few records other than she did die in debt.
In fact, Pamela would have been written to a decade before her death to be told she had been recognised by the prestigious RSA. Here’s a quote from our book …
Pamela was proposed as a member of the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) by committee and given that fellowship on October, 13, 1941, ten years prior to her death. This was long after her departure from the Bohemian set, and during her quiet later years, she received this recognition – but she was still alive when it was given.
Our thanks to Corrine Kenner for providing an original bookplate of Pamela’s on which the letters FRSA were clearly written after her name – meaning that Pamela was certainly aware of the recognition. She is listed in the RSA as an artist, illustrator and teller of Jamaican folk stories.
More detailed biographical information is included in our chapter on Pamela Colman-Smith in the book.
In ground-breaking research, we reveal further over March and April 2015 how Pamela created the deck in such a short space of time, and the sources she drew upon to design the Minor cards in particular.
For the first time in a century, you will learn:
The name of the cat on the Queen of Wands
Why there is a snail on the 9 of Pentacles
The identity of the juggling man on the 2 of Pentacles
The reason why the figure on the 7 of Wands has mismatched footwear
The explanation of the enigmatic characters on the 6 of Cups
The name and nature of the lady on the 9 of Pentacles
Who the character sitting on the bench is on the 9 of Cups – and why his top button is undone
The reason the word PAX is drawn in the window of the 4 of Swords
Why the figure on the 7 of Swords has such a strange gait
And much – much more! Watch this space over March – April 2015 every day for new insights – including a new biography of Pamela Colman-Smith from our ground-breaking research.