Since I first started researching my book on tarot artist (and of course, she was much more than that), Pamela Colman Smith, there seems to have been a resurgence of interest in her within the UK.
Interest was always more apparent in the USA, where many Pamela aficionados kept her story going, from Mary Greer’s tarot blog, to the late Stuart Kaplan’s researches and writings, and Susan Wands’ current fantasy novels about her).
Pamela spent many years living in Cornwall and died in Bude, with a local lad, the late Tony Edwards of Bude, her errand boy. She lived first at Upton, and then at what is now the Bencoolen.
The focus of my research/book was on Pamela’s life in Cornwall, and why she left a bohemian existence in London to move to the Lizard, but it is an American writer, Susan Wands, who has pushed and pushed for greater recognition for Pamela.
She would like to see a blue plaque in London where Pamela spent many of her formative and most productive adult years.
There is a plaque of sorts in the Castle, at Bude, which is excellent because Pamela’s life in Bude has tourism and historic potential.
This week, there was good news.
The application for a blue plaque for Pamela Colman Smith was accepted by the English Heritage Organisation’s Blue Plaque committee. It’s a small start, but a start nonetheless.
Susan Wands (who has tried for a blue plaque for Pamela previously) says:
As a huge contributor to the world tarot, I hope that they recognise that she has helped set the template for tarot decks. And recognising her other other artwork would be swell too.
I was thrilled to get an email stating that this time the application went through, one was submitted ten years ago and it was only recently that I could send in an amended application. My thanks to everyone who signed the petition on my website in support of this plaque.
Around 100 names a year are considered, all submitted by members of the public, 1/3 go forward to the next round, with researchers verifying the residences via census records and rate books. Here’s hoping that within the year we hear that Pamela Colman Smith has a plaque on one of her residences in London.
And what constitutes being eligible for a Blue Plaque?
You simply have to have been “very good at what you did, to have contributed to the overall happiness of mankind and be recognisable to the person in the street.” This last condition has proved the trickiest. In order to guard against sudden gusts of celebrity, anyone who is granted a plaque will either have been dead 20 years or have passed the 100th anniversary of their birthday, whichever is the soonest. Although, there have been exceptions. The philosophy have been to avoid installing plaque status only to find a decade later that no one can remember who they were. There is no denying though that there have been a majority of men having received blue plaques rather than a parity with women being recognised.
Initially, the Society of Arts was in charge, and favoured a rather ugly chocolate brown. Then, from 1901, it was the London County Council (LCC) which adopted a dizzying freestyle, including bronze tablets and sepia circles. From 1965 the GLC settled on a standardised blue roundel, a decision which English Heritage has subsequently been happy to endorse. The first blue plaque was awarded to the poet Lord Byron in 1867, but his house in Holles Street, near Cavendish Square, was demolished in 1889. The oldest goes to Napoleon III, the last French Emperor, whose plaque was installed in 1867.
Serval nominee have been at first rejected, including two Sylvias, Pankhurst and Plath. Arthur Pinero and Wilkie Collins were likewise rejected initially on the grounds of cultural insignificance! Some have three plaques: Dickens, Chamberlain, Rossetti and Gladstone. The blue plaque has kept some houses from being demolished, as Dickens’s Doughty Street residence and Keats House in Hampstead both would have been demolished is it hadn’t been for their plaques.
Well done to the indefatigable Susan. Here’s hoping, Pamela finally gets some official recognition.