Banner of hands holding cards from Smith Waite deck.
An attractive, friendly pixie waves hello.

In traditional folklore, pixies are generally mischievous, gentle, short of stature and attractively childlike; they are fond of dancing and gather outdoors in huge numbers to dance or sometimes wrestle, through the night.

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Existential Crisis

Pamela Coleman-Smith, nicknamed Pixie, a US citizen living in London was having an existential crisis. On this day in November, Twenty year old Smith needed money to fund a publishing enterprise featuring an Avant-Guard magazine called “The Green Sheaf.” Pixie, like the Peter-Pan of her illustrations felt that her friends had stopped believing in her.

Hellen Terry, Actress and Friend of Pamela

Hellen Terry, a world-famous Shakespearean Theater Actress and co-founder of the Lyceum Theater, was her neighbor when Pamela Colman Smith was a child.  Terry became a mentor and gave the energetic child with the dark hair and eyes the nickname Pixie. With Terry’s encouragement, Colman-Smith started making illustrations for Theater Set and Costume Design as a ten year old child.

Her mother was a successful writer of illustrated children books. Her father traveled regularly between Brooklyn, Jamaica and London. He worked as auditor for an Industrial Financial Corp that owned the Jamaican Railroad. Pamela’s first illustrated publication of African-Jamaican folk tales, Anancy Stories, was reprinted in 2006. Her mother passed away while the family lived in Jamaica during Pixie’s formative years.

Drexel Event

She traveled with her father to Philadelphia to accept a scholarship, based on her portfolio, at renowned Drexel College. Pixie’s goal was to follow a career path in the publishing industry. The administrators at the college took one look at her brown skin and immediately revoked their offer. Disappointed yet remaining positive, she moved to New York.

Facing racial issues again in New York, Coleman-Smith felt London was her best choice for a career. Pixie left Pratt College in Brooklyn in 1899. She traveled to England alone, after the death of her father. The first network of clients came through her renewed association with Terry and the Lyceum Theater group. Her career soared. She continued to build her client network through small theater performances of poetry and story reading in her home. Her list included famous playwrights, authors, poets and actors of the era. She excelled in Theatrical Set design and Costume design. Her clients were amazed at how easily she could make an illustration of the thought they were projecting. She was able to monetize her synesthesia. Everyone has that, to some degree, but hers was extremely advanced. Her fans loved the intellectual tickling that her art evoked.

Image and Interesting facts about the life of Pixie

Banish Fear

She was always willing to share her knowledge and experience with other artists. She advised art students, Banish fear, brace your courage, place your ideals high up with the sun, away from the dirt and squalor and ugliness around you and let that power that makes the 'roar of the high-power pistons' enter into your work — energy — courage — life — love. Use your wits. Use your eyes. Perhaps you use your physical eyes too much and only see the mask. Find eyes within, look for the door into the unknown.

A Free Spirit Seeking Experience

Although she was a child of the Second Industrial Revolution, her illustrations completely excluded images from the mechanical age.
Her life ambition reached its climax in 1903 with the launching of her own magazine under the title The Green Sheaf. .

Contributing authors included such notables as authors Bram Stoker, Ellen Terry, William Butler Yeats, Jack Yeats, Arthur Ransome, Christopher St John, Cecil French, George William Russel, Dorothy Ward, John Todhunter and many other international celebrities.

Pamela Coleman Smith could not get a small business loan. It was impossible in that era. No one would loan money for a woman owned business, especially a single woman owned business. Her client list included the most successful playwrights, writers, poets and theatrical performers at the turn of the 20th Century. Maybe, in her innocence, she felt that her clients were her friends. She was paid by commissions.

The Green Sheaf 1st editonn

Smith started the publication and used everything she had as leverage to make it work. She had the best content and images from the most respected artists from her network of clients. Pixie worked in the Commercial Art industry as an illustrator since childhood. The young woman had a thorough understanding of the latest technology.

Business Plan

Without funding for modern equipment, she was forced to use a century old technique for the binding process. It was quaint. Smith’s business plan called for Avant Guard. The subscription rate didn’t meet expectations. The business was undercapitalized. It failed after 13 issues. Pamela Coleman Smith shut it down. Poor Fool, she found herself at rock bottom financially.

Once fiscally stable again, her career changed direction. She completed a large project that would become the defining project of her career. She was guaranteed complete artistic control. An immense project, it consisted of 80 illustrations for the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck, accurately illustrated, delivered in 6 months. The project was delivered on time, on budget, to the complete satisfaction of the author, Arthur Waite. Sales of the deck were extremely successful, but the only recognition Pixie got was a line in Waite’s accompanying book, I commissioned a young woman to design the illustrations. That was it. No residuals, no intellectual property. No one knows how much Pixie left on the table, but Waite had a reputation as a tightwad. The contract was verbal. In a letter to her business associate, Alfred Stiglitz of the world-famous Stiglitz Studio in New York, she said of the project, It was a large project for very little cash. What contractor hasn’t make that same statement a time or two? The missive was intended as a gentle reminder that she expected payment for the special illustrations that she left on consignment at the Stiglitz Studio.

WW 1 Patriotic Poster


Pixie drifted away from her Golden Dawn friends after that. She continued making fantastic illustrations for the Shakespearean Theater and for publication but on a print-shop scale. Her uncle from Brooklyn died and left enough inheritance to help her escape the rat race and move as far away from London as possible, and still remain in England. She moved to the town of Lizard, in Cornwall. That is the area that was known to have the largest concentration of pixies.

Lizard Peninsula England

Her last visit to the US was when she visited a friend in Brooklyn in 1946. A devoted Catholic, she died in 1951. Her name and ideas faded into antiquity.

In the Tarot deck The Fool doesn’t have a number, doesn’t belong to any suit, can go anywhere. The fool, a free spirit in search of experience, always appears unexpectedly. It happened that way for Stuart Kaplan of US Games in 2009 when he published the Centennial edition of the Rider Waite Smith deck. He sells over 1.5 million decks each year. That makes Pamela Coleman Smith the most successful illustrator of 21st Century.

Pixie Illustration