Why Bude should be interested in Pamela Colman Smith

In the last couple of years, I have met with visitors from USA, Australia and Canada, all interested in finding the grave of Pamela Colman Smith (tucked away in an unknown spot in St Michael’s; this is covered in the book). They have also been interested in her life.

These visitors were shocked to find no exhibition about Pamela, and had to make do with a free guided tour from me, instead.  If we celebrated the life of Pamela, there would doubtless would be an engaged tourist audience for Bude to cultivate. It would be great to get her on the map.

This woman, who was an illustrator/artist, moved to Bude in 1942, at first to Upton, and later to the Bencoolen, then divided into flats, and previously a gentleman’s residence. Pamela died at the age of 73, from a heart condition. It is unlikely that she ever got out much, possibly to some shops on the Strand and to the local Catholic Church of St Peter’s, and even to the then Conservative club, but her shopping from Belle Vue (Miller’s) was delivered by the late Tony Edwards for a period; he was her errand boy, and yielded some wonderful information when interviewed as the then only living person who knew of ‘Miss Smith’ as he politely called her.

 

She was not well-known in Bude; indeed by the time she moved here, she was probably quite unwell. However, she is potentially a famous name for the town to celebrate. Why?

Well, while undergoing the process of being received into the Catholic Church, Pamela was commissioned by Arthur Waite of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn to illustrate a tarot deck. At this point in her life she was living and working in London, friends with actors Ellen Terry and Henry Irving of the Lyceum, writer Bram Stoker, the Yeats family and others. That period of her life was colourful and fascinating enough, as was her move to Cornwall in 1918, down to the Lizard, followed later by a move to Bude in 1942. Her life is something I have grappled with in my book, which took some years of research, interviews, and visits, plus a shipload of reading.

The artwork for her tarot deck is currently copyright, which I believe in the UK expires in 1922. Globally, many thousands of packs of the Rider Waite Smith tarot deck have sold. At the time, Pamela’s name was not added to the deck, nor was she paid much for the job. However, it is that commission, among all her other artworks, which made her internationally known, renowned and revered. In tarot circles, Pamela was thus an extremely important person and continues to be so due to her contribution.

Dawn with visitors in the churchyard and the Bencoolen with landlady, Lorraine

I was more interested in her religious conversion and her Cornish years in writing my book, receiving much help along the way.

While lots of people locally may not have heard of this American artist, born in Pimlico, who died in Bude, on a global scale she achieved an incredible longevity from her designs on the tarot cards. For those who have a deck, you will find that she signed every one of the cards (check bottom right) except for The Fool.

Hopefully, the book will help form a little part of Bude’s history, and will be available to order from local booksellers, or online. The publisher is Fonthill Media and you can also order direct.

 

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