A 78-CARDS DECK by 78 ARTISTS
“Because of Campos’ initiative, we are not only seeing the work of local contemporary
artists collaborating with international artists on the same art project but honoring this talented woman artist. We can also see how fascinating the act of art making is and draw parallels to a tarot reading process.”
The last year 2021, a massive collaboration of creatives -local and from other states, joined by artists from Spain, Argentina, and México- came together in Tampa Bay, Florida. Artists are, by nature, like eagles, who prefer to fly alone and do not collaborate well with others. So, when seventy-eight artists join to create a unique synergetic chef-d’oeuvre (a traditional art Tarot deck), it is an accomplishment beyond artistic belief.
This project was born out of the love of two sisters: one, a tarot reader living in Spain; the
other, an artist and author in Tampa, Florida. Alicia Campos Massó is the creative force
behind this project. It took her a year-and-a-half to unite seventy-eight willing participants who would provide their imaginative talent to the project. Moreover, Campos created a digital hub (www.thetarotproject.art), printed 1000 limited edition Tarot Deck, and finally curated a show at the Carrollwood Cultural Center, where these original masterpieces will be presented to the public on September 9th at 5:30 PM.
Being an advocate for women’s rights, Campos set the foundation for the project – an
artwork by Pamela Colman Smith (1878-1951) and her iconic Rider Waite Tarot deck, which was printed by the Rider Company in 1909, in Britain.
History and Speculations
Before discussing the artistic contributions of this deck, let us dive into the history. There are many books and articles written on Tarot. For many, it is a taboo topic. However, for others, it is an obsession. For professional tarot-card readers, it is a source of income, and finally, for some, it is a source of guidance and/or closure with answers to many questions.
One of those seeking answers was the brilliant Jean-Baptist Bernadotte, a skilled soldier. As legend has it, he went to a tarot reader pretending to be a businessman. It took the reader just a glance at his card to unmask his identity and predict his bright future – to become a king. With the death of Charles XIII on February 5, 1818, Charles John ascended to the throne as Charles XIV John, King of Sweden and Norway.
It has been said that starting in 1200, tarot cards began to spread in the courts through
the hands of gypsies. Some historians believe that the Tarot originated in northern Italy.
The earliest document mentioning them was from 1442, originally a popular card game among nobles. For example, the Visconti family loved it so much that they took the game to a new level and commissioned an artist to create a family deck with portraits of their relatives. Some people say that Tarot came from ancient Egypt, and they carry ancient traditions and meanings. If you look closely, you will see Egyptian symbols.
Despite a rich history, there is another reason the Tarot spread so widely; it applies to any
age, social class, or nationality. After all, who does not want to unlock the power of
intuition and discover their best self while being immersed in a magical, mystical, and
mysterious ancient source of wisdom and clarity?
Rider-Waite Tarot Deck
The Rider–Waite tarot deck is also known as the Waite–Smith, Rider–Waite–Smith,
or Rider tarot deck. Pamela’s artwork was based on the instructions of the British writer and
mystic Arthur Edward Waite. He and Pamela were members of the Hermetic Order of
the Golden Dawn, as were many other famous writers, poets, artists, and philosophers, including William Yeats and Bram Stoker.
In 1918, the American publisher, de Laurence, began pirating the Waite-Smith deck. It
quickly became the most popular tarot deck in the English-speaking world. In 1959, the
deck became even more ubiquitous when a major publisher picked it up,
University Press. By the mid-20th century, the Waite-Smith deck had become the
standard American deck and the hallmark for future developments in deck design.
Who was Pamela Colman Smith?
One of Campos’ life missions is to shine the light on unknown works of women artists and
their roles in art history and our society.
Pamela Colman Smith became famous because of her deck, but few people knew she
was a stage and costume designer, folklorist, poet, author, illustrator of ballads and
folktales, a suffragette, and publisher of books and broadsheets. Quite a diversely
Smith illustrated over 20 books, wrote two collections of Jamaican folklore, edited two
magazines, and ran the Green Sheaf Press. The Green Sheaf Press published various novels, poems, fairy tales, and folktales, primarily by women writers.
Pamela supported the struggle for the right to vote, and through the Suffrage Atelier, a
collective of professional illustrators, she contributed artwork to the cause of women’s
suffrage in Great Britain. Additionally, she donated her services for poster designs and
toys to the Red Cross during World War I.
Art of Reading and Creating
Because of Campos’ initiative, we are not only seeing the work of local contemporary
artists collaborating with international artists on the same art project but honoring this talented woman artist. We can also see how fascinating the act of art making is and draw parallels to a tarot reading process.
Tarot readers require dedication, learning, and attention, just like the process of art
making. Moreover, it creates communication between art and the artist and the person exposed to it and touched by it.
Tarot readers create a unique atmosphere to connect with their clients and
the deck. It might be music, candles, or a specific meditation. The shuffling of cards is
significant. The readers produce a ritual that prepares their mindset, just like
some artists light candles, play music, or take time to meditate before putting something
on paper or canvas. When an artist is getting ready to create, they too have their
rituals that unleash their imagination and spirit.
For Pamela, it was music. While working on the deck, she often listened to classical
music like Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, and Debussy. She would drown herself in the
music and envision the final piece.
The process of tarot reading connects people with their very own experiences. When
they see the images, it inspires emotion, recognition, and nostalgia. Just like art,
we see something beautiful, disturbing, scary, or inspiring.
The best card readers combine the knowledge of the cards and their intuition. Artistic
prose, if you will. Tarot readers very often are compared to artists. Like many of us who
draw, but not so many have the talent and intuition to make a masterpiece, the same
applies to tarot readers. They make insightful decisions when they see the images and
then tell the story.
This unique project, which came from Campos’ connection with her sister, united
contemporary artists unveiled the mystery and history behind tarot reading, and
reminded us of the talent and creative process of Pamela Smith, who deserved to be
mentioned in art history books.
It is also a great reminder that art is a universal language that comes from intuition,
imagination, and spirit. It is acceptable for any age, social class, or nationality. It creates
meaningful connections between us, our desires, and the world.
Talented artists, like great tarot readers, can look into the future and uncover a
new world, like the sculptor who peers into stone and sees a statue, while everyone
else sees a block.
Hickman, Kennedy. “Napoleonic Wars: Marshal Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte.” ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, thoughtco.com/napoleonic-wars-marshal-jean-baptiste-bernadotte-2360137.
Hardy, Justin. Directed by Ludo Graham and Justin Hardy. “Strictly Supernatural: Tarot. Narrated by Christopher Lee.” (TV Series), A Non Fiction Films presentation of a Café Productions Film, 1997
Smith, Sherryl E. “American Occult Tarot 1910-1960.” The Rider Waite Smith deck,
A.E. Waite. In Wikipedia. https://.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A._E._Waite
Rider–Waite tarot deck. In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rider–Waite_tarot_deck
Pamela Colman Smith. In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pamela_Colman_Smith
White, Katie. “Pamela Colman Smith Was the Artist and Occultist Who Designed the Iconic Tarot Deck. Why Has No One Ever Heard Her Name?” August 26,2022, Art News, https://news.artnet.com/art-world/pamela-colman-smith-rider-waite-tarot-2163627
Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermetic_Order_of_the_Golden_Dawn
Mystic Amber. “Where did Tarot Cards Originate? [History Explained].” Tarot Institute. https://tarotinstitute.com/tarot-cards-origins/