Work Process and Life Lessons: Barb Vogel

CAW member Barbara Vogel talks about her work process and life lessons learned in the upcoming exhibit Relaciones Extendidas, Extended Relationships.. featuring the work of Barb Vogel, Elsie Sanchez and Leah Wong.  The opening reception is April 30th 1-3pm at the Southern Ohio Museum (825 Gallia Street Portsmouth, OH 45662) and closes June 23rd.

The   “clickless” botanicals images  in my current exhibition, Extended Relationships, are  created with a hand-held wand scanner, an instrument designed to be used on books and flat materials. My early experimental scans of uneven surfaces such as pine needles, fur, and faces resulted in endless error messages. To avoid such messages, I eventually held a sheet of glass in front of objects to provide an even surface for the scanner.

The soft focus of the wand scans gives these botanicals a sense of the historical or antique, while veils of light bathe the plants that elevates them beyond the commonplace or decorative. I fuse these images with encaustic medium, after mounting the photographs on wood panels,  to add to their other-worldly, unattainable preserved quality. These images are printed larger than life and  “full frame” or full scan.

Being an older artist I have learned at least four things in life.

  1. Other people’s ideas are always brilliant next to your own but be patiently persistent and trust the process. Elsie’s work and Leah’s work in this exhibit both are brilliant and humbling.
  2. Collaboration can be difficult but you learn so much in doing so.
  3. You can do art alone, but it is very difficult. Ellen Bazzolli, a studio mate,took the time to teach me the basics of encaustic. My studio mates and the Columbus community have provided me with feedback and insights.
  4. Keep an open mind and a shut mouth.

To learn more about Barb, visit her website and CAW Talk interview.

CAW presents INSIDE


On March 17, 2017, CAW opened their exhibition season with INSIDE, at the Cultural Art Center.  INSIDE the first part of duo exhibition, asked the artists to reflect on the multiple meanings of interior spaces through their own lens.   Beginning June 28, 2017, CAW will finish the artistic conversation started in Columbus with their first ever exhibition outside of the city. OUTSIDE will be on view at the Schnormeier Gallery in Mount Vernon, Ohio. This exhibition will consist of partner works that reveal the exterior of the theme each artist began in their work for INSIDE at the Cultural Arts Center.


Every CAW exhibition is a unique opportunity for our artists to explore new themes and push the boundaries of their chosen media. Here we highlight just a few artworks out of many incredible pieces from our 35 participating artists.

Megan Evers’s painted homage to bees titled Home is both commanding and delightful. Evers normally utilizes odd shaped canvases but she opts for hexagonal honeycomb pattern within a rectangular canvas. Kristin Morris’s Lizard in Boy Suit is a sublime combination of the grotesque, tongue in cheek humor and technical facility. Lastly, Melinda Sabo’s The Guide invites us to contemplate spiritual and even mystical concepts of one’s interior self.

Lizard in Boy Suit by Kristin Morris
Lizard in Boy Suit by Kristin Morris

The exhibit ends on April 15th. Do yourself a favor and check out these works live and in person. Then make sure you mark your calendars for the second installment of this exhibition OUTSIDE at the Schnormeier Gallery, opening reception July 7th.

For more information about INSIDE at the Cultural Arts Center, visit their website

New Art for a New Year

In 2016 CAW presented two thought provoking exhibitions. The first was Landmark at Fort Hayes Shot Tower, which challenged our member artists to visually translate the theme of the title. As usual our fierce artists charged forward with many diverse and inspired interpretations of the concept of a landmark. In addition, our annual small works show was installed at ClaySpace with the title State of Affairs. In this exhibit our curators directly asked artists to respond to the ever-changing and increasingly polarized political landscape of 2016.

If one thing is certain, this new year will kindle our creativity to interrogate injustices through art. We look forward to several new exhibits including CAW Collected and Inside/Out which will be featured in two locations. We also look forward to providing more opportunities for member artists to further their practice through the Artist Identity Series. More importantly we look forward to the chance to grow together and empower each other as a community of women artists.

Here is to a healthy, creative, active, and prosperous 2017!!

Herstories and How-tos: SUMMER BREAK!

Hello there!

Are you as ready for summer as I am? Currently, as I write this, I am slathered in spf, I smell like last night’s bonfire and I’m loading up my phone with plenty of trashy teen sci-fi books on tape to listen to while I do All The Gardening (or, more likely, as I loll about in the garden with beer in hand).

Good news and bad news chickadees- Herstories and How-tos will be going on a bit of a hiatus. Basically, I signed up for many summer classes (b/c summer fun = learning), I’m still working my day job (which amps up in the summer), and I’ve got some artistic irons in the fire that I don’t want to ignore. I’m facing a tough hoice of cutting something out of my life to make plenty of space for also having fun and general SUMMER, and H&H seems like the most logical choice. The good news is, this is not for forever. I’ll be back in September, just in time for back-to-school Wake-Up-Your-Sleepy-Braintimes. Also, this now gives you all more time to catch fireflies and eat popsicles, or just eat pizza on the steps of the statehouse in your bathing suit.

See you in September!

Collaborative Women : The Coalition Zine

Being a part of CAW has opened me to many things, the foremost is being part of a collective & what that looks like.  This got my brain going on what this dynamic might look like for other female identified collectives or groups… enter the rabbit hole we call the internet.  Upon a recent search I stumbled upon Coalition Zine and my cotton socks were knocked clean off.

Their about page reads

“The Coalition is dedicated to telling stories and making space via literature and visual work. We want to do more than introduce diversity to the world of publishing: we want to give it heart. We only accept and publish work from female and femme identifying writers and artists of color and we pride ourselves in bringing you content that is honest and passionate.”

And by god do they deliver.  Published Quarterly (both online and print), the Coalition Zine is so many things, but the one, the one that sticks with me is its delivery of words.   Whether it’s a short story, poem or an interview of a young artist, the writers dig deep.  The entire zine feels immensely personal. Souls being bared in the same way you share thoughts on life with a close friend.  Here are two reads that grabbed me, got me thinking outside of my little self imposed bubble.

Her Selfish Happiness – Sher Xavier

The (White) Privilege of Coming Out – Ann-Derrick Gaillot

There’s so much more I could say, but nothing will compare with finding out for yourself.


Herstories and How-to’s: Tomyris

Let’s talk about Truth, for a moment. There are those who believe that “The Truth is out there-” that truth is something objective and quantifiable. There are others, who have a more fluid concept of truth, that it’s subjective and slippery, or that there are many Truths. As the founder of the North American Pseudohistorical Society, it’s probably no surprise that I fall into the latter camp. You may be surprised, however, to learn that the man widely regarded as “the Father of History,” Herodotus, was totally in that camp as well. He would record all the different versions of a story, ending with ‘Well, this sounds like the best version, so let’s say that’s what happened.’

“Cat, why are you telling us about a man- isn’t this supposed to be a herstory?”

Oh yeah, and this month’s featured woman is a real doozy. I did, though, want to preface by saying that while this woman definitely existed, was definitely bad-ass and definitely is deceased, that’s about as far as the definites go. All primary sources we have about her stem from Herodotus’s account of her life, and even that was written nearly a hundred years after she died. Normally, this would send me looking for a more well-researched/documented lady, however when I heard this story, I felt like I imagine Herodotus must’ve felt- that whether the story was TRUE or “true” or ‘somewhat (?) true?’, the picture it paints is too vivid not to retell. So this month, I’m going to tell you about Tomyris*

illustration of what Tomyris might have looked like based on what we know of clothing at the time.** (via)

Tomyris lived in the 6th century BCE, in the area that spans from present day Kazakhstan to Iran and possibly farther east. By the time she appears in Herodotus’s account, she is already the widowed ruler of the Massagetae, a fierce nomadic confederation that occupied the Great Steppe. The Steppe was a harsh place to live, and the people who lived there grew up tough. (500 years after Tomyris, another nomadic group of hard-core folks roamed the Steppes. You might know them as the Huns). Sadly, not much is known about the Massagetae (or Tomyris’s early life), beyond their location, the fact that they were a nomadic group, and that this lifestyle made them a real pain to their neighbors in the West who wanted to collect them in an empire. In fact, it’s because of their resistance to the ancient Greek nemesis, Persia, that we know about them. Tomyris defeated Cyrus the Great,*** the famed Persian ruler.

Persia in the 6th century BCE was the largest and arguably most powerful empire at the time. They expanded and expanded, seemingly unstoppable, until they got to the steppe and met the Massagetae. When your primary method of subjugation is to storm cities and subdue the people en masse, that method sort of falls apart when you come up against a people who don’t have cities. Being unwilling to give up, as I imagine many other supreme leaders of empires might be, Cyrus tried a different approach. He sent a message to Tomyris, praising her beauty and intelligence and offering her a proposal of marriage. Tomyris saw it immediately for the thinly veiled attempt at her lands that it was. She laughed it off. Taking a different track, Cyrus began to amass warships and had his people start to build a bridge over the Jaxartes River which separated the two nations. Tomyris was not having it, saying:

“…Be content to rule in peace your own kingdom, and bear to see us reign over the countries that are ours to govern. As, however, I know you will not choose to hearken to this counsel, since there is nothing you less desirest than peace and quietness, come now, if you are so mightily desirous of meeting the Massagetai in arms, leave your useless toil of bridge-making; let us retire three days’ march from the river bank, and do you come across with your soldiers; or, if you like better to give us battle on your side the stream, retire yourself an equal distance.”

…or, in other words, ‘You leave us alone, we’ll leave you alone. But mess with us and it’s your place or mine, buddy?’ At this point, it’s generally agreed upon that Cyrus should’ve walked away, and he was about to- when he chose that moment to listen to some very bad advice from his brother and adviser, Caesus. Arguing that giving up to a woman would be a huge loss of face, Caesus proposed a new plan: They would leave a camp seemingly abandoned and stocked with an overabundance of food and wine, and attack when the Massagetae were good and full and sleepy. This worked even better than expected- as a nomadic people without the agricultural system needed to grow grapes, the Massagetae were unused to wine and totally unequipped to handle it. They became thoroughly intoxicated , the Persians swept in and attacked, killing or taking prisoner nearly a third of the Massagetaen forces. One of these prisoners was Tomyris’s son Sparagapises. Needless to say, Tomyris was pissed. Not only was she upset at the loss of troops, she also felt that Cyrus and his people had played dirty. That her son was captured further enraged her, but rather than go on a massive killing spree to get him back, she tried one more time to appeal to reason, and sent a message to Cyrus, saying:

 “… Restore my son to me and get you from the land unharmed, triumphant over a third part of the host of the Massagetai. Refuse, and I swear by the sun, the sovereign lord of the Massagetai, bloodthirsty as you are, I will give you your fill of blood.”

Meanwhile, back in the Persian camp, in a twist of fate straight out of Shakespeare, Sparagapises was sobering up and becoming aware of his position as a bargaining chip. He convinced his captors to temporarily remove his bonds and quickly killed himself, to keep from being used as a tool to manipulate his mother. When Tomyris heard, she rallied her forces and brought battle to the Persians, in what was described as “the fiercest” combat seen at the time. The Persians, and their leader Cyrus the Great, were destroyed. This, though, wasn’t enough for Tomyris. When the battle was over, she had his body brought to her, along with an empty wine skin. Amidst the gore of the battleground, she filled the wineskin with blood, cut off the head of Cyrus and either dipped it into the wineskin or poured the wineskin out over it (depending on the source), saying:

“I warned you that I would quench your thirst for blood and so I shall.”

DAY-UM. (via)

Tomyris is famous for defeating the ruler of the greatest empire in the world. History is full of upsets and bad-ass women in positions of military leadership. What really makes this story for me, is how many times Tomyris sought peace and the extent to which she kept her word when these efforts didn’t work. Hell hath no fury like a woman who told you she was going to have fury if you did A and then you did A anyway, you dummy.

As cool and bad-ass as Tomyris was, I think we can all agree that defeating and decapitating those who cross you is not an ideal or sustainable method for solving disagreements, so this month we’re going to learn how to use “I-statements.”

How to Construct an “I-statement” to Deescalate a Situation So You Don’t Have to Dip the Heads of Your Enemies Into Buckets of Blood.

In her book How to Disagree Without Being Disagreeable, Dr. Suzette Haden Elgin shares a variety of tools which can be used to have a disagreement which is constructive, rather than hostile. One such tool, is the “I-statement”. Constructing an i-statement is simple, and allows you to state your feelings and concerns in a neutral way.

  1. Start with a specific, objective action which you want the person you’re talking to to stop.
    For example: “When you swing that stick around like that”
  2. Follow that with a description of how you feel (using the phrase “I feel” rather than “you make me feel” or “it makes me feel”:
    “…I feel nervous…”
  3. End with the reason for that feeling
    “…because I worry you might hit another friend in the face and hurt them”

So now, instead of yelling “Quit swinging that damn stick around!!” you say “When you swing that stick around like that, I feel nervous because I worry you might hit another friend in the face and hurt them.” (I should probably mention I use i-statements frequently when working with preschoolers) It may take a bit longer to say, but having used it with children and adults, in both silly and serious situations, I can honestly say it does help- I haven’t had to dip a single head in a bucket of blood.


*I’ve seen multiple spellings and variations including Thomyris, Tomris, Tomiride, or Queen Tomiri. To keep things simple, I’m sticking with the one I first heard/have seen the most.

**Also, one of the few drawings that doesn’t portray her as improbably white and/or blonde.

***In all fairness to Cyrus, he seems like a pretty okay dude. Especially for the times, he was remarkably tolerant and just as a ruler.

Evangelia Philippidis: Illustrator/Artist/Professor

Evangelia 09

Evangelia Philippidis first came to my attention when she posted a phenomenal piece of work she had done on the 614 artist Facebook page.  I was really enthralled by her technique and the vivid colors she used so I asked her if she’d like to be interviewed.  She said yes so we started online and then I had the privilege of being invited to her lovely home for appetizers, wine and a tour of her studio.


As with so many other artists that I have met, we found some commonalities…the most prominent of which was that we both were ‘pioneers’ in the Olde Town East scene only she lasted loner than I did. We both had homes in that area way before it was fashionable in the 80’s. For all I know, I walked my doggies past her house!  She lived on Monroe and I lived on Franklin Avenue.  Small world!!  That was led to a lively discussion of the area, the gorgeous houses, people we both knew.  Evangelia lived in her home for 27 years before moving to Grove City (about 1.5 years ago) to be closer to her folks and to downsize.

Evangelia has been a freelance artist since 1987.  Initially, she was doing advertising and editorial work but turned to more of a ‘fine art’ career in 2009 after losing her job as an editorial illustrator for the Columbus Dispatch. And I also found out that she knew a friend of mine who also was RIF’ed the same year! Once again, small world!!!

evan on friendship
On Friendship’s Wings

Born and raised until the age of 9 in the shadow of the Parthenon in Athens, Greece, her first memories as a child were playing in the ancient ruins and museums of Athens always surrounded by art….wow, I’m jealous!!! Her parents moved to the US to realize the American dream. Her father, a salesman in gold jewelry, was unlike many Greek dads, wanting his daughters to go to college and make more of their lives than what they would be able to  in Greece, hence, the move. The girls and their mother didn’t really want to leave Greece but Dad won out and they moved to a part of Ohio that Evangelia was less than thrilled with.

20160208_175602.jpgInitially, she wanted to be an archaeologist but since she is not a very science oriented kinda gal that dream ended in her junior year of high school in Lorain, Ohio.  She always drew as a hobby, was always creative and imaginative, creating original Halloween costumes for her younger sister and posters for theater productions but she didn’t think it could become a vocation. However,  eventually she sort of fell into it while trying to decide what to do with her life.  While waiting for seat to open in the Navy’s photography school, she did research on art schools and found that CCAD was rated as one of the top art schools in the country.  Soooo… she enrolled at CCAD on a whim and fell in LOVE! Read more

Herstories and How-To’s: The DIY version

Hello friends.

Writing the Herstories and How-To’s column for over a year now, I’ve learned a lot about the bad-ass women who came before us. If there’s one constant thread, though, it’s that every woman, no matter how bad-ass or impressive a life they lead, is human. This means that from time to time, even with the best intentions, they mess up.

All of which is to say, I did not get my act together this month to share with you a fully fleshed out biographical sketch and accompanying tutorial, and for that I’m sorry. I promise that in May I’ll be back to our regularly scheduled posting (I’ve even got a few things already in the works).

In the meantime, however, here are a few herstorical tidbits from the internet to peruse and enjoy (and if you see someone you want profiled in a future Herstories and How-To’s, let me know!)

And finally, in the spirit of admitting that we are all human (no matter what our gender-identity), here’s a short video about how to apologize from youtuber/my new best friend Franchesca Ramsey:

BETYE SAAR: STILL TICKIN’ Scottsdale Contemporary Art Museum, Jan 30 – May 1, 2016



Scottsdale Contemporary Art Museum, Jan 30 – May 1, 2016,  Scottsdale, Arizona

By Sandra Aska




“I am intrigued with combining the remnant of memories,

fragments or relics and ordinary objects, with the components of technology.

It’s a way of delving into the past and reaching into the future simultaneously.”








“You know, you can make art out of anything!”

Those were the words Betye Saar said to me when I told her I had been in awe of her work since the 1960s.


Betye and Me

We met at the opening of her exhibit at the Scottsdale Contemporary Art Museum.  This exhibit is a fascinating journey through the fictional biographies of transplanted Africans and the transformation and assimilation of slaves into contemporary identities and the creation of a constantly evolving culture. A sweet and petite grandmotherly figure today, Betye Saar, an educator, print maker and installation artist, was born in Los Angeles in 1926, and, at age 90, is still making art and visualizing change.

She had an important early influence that set her path. Her grandmother lived in Watts and as a child Betye watched Simon Rodia building his Watts Towers, which to her, was an amazing, mystical, and magical place and the beginning of her life long interest in metaphysics and the occult. Also, she said, where she lived in Pasadena, they had gypsy conventions and her father would drive them to this big park where all these caravans and things were. She spoke about always having an interest in things outside of life as she knew it; and the difficulty of finding information on mysticism, magic, and witchcraft. Because it was the ‘60s, fascination with those ideas were just beginning and images she finally found in books were incorporated into her early work.

The Rosebowl Fleamarket and thrift shops in Pasadena were a source for items that spoke to her-  bits and pieces of dolls, clocks, African masks, Tarot cards, bird cages, old photographs, crockadile skins and other ephemera started piling up in her studio. Photographs of family members, old linen handkerchiefs, personal letters, gloves, clothing and family memorabilia became part of her assembled art.

Some weeks after seeing the exhibit, I was in a contemporary Scottsdale gallery, and still excited about the show, and I asked the gallery owner in Scottsdale if she had seen the Saar’s exhibit and explained what it was about. The gallery owner replied with an emphasis that bore no challenge, “There should be no politics in art. ART is just art, if politics are involved it holds absolutely no interest for me.”  Somewhat taken aback, I was not ready to debate the definition and philosophy of art with her, and simply made a polite retreat. Her idea of art had so many limitations that at least 95% of art through the ages would, to her mind, not be considered art as we see it today.

thumb_IMG_1093_1024 thumb_IMG_1094_1024









Bette Saar is an example of making art based on who she is, was, and is still becoming. Her way is a thoughtful and intuitive process based on things she knows to be true and important to her. She is telling her story.


In this piece the plant material changes according to the exhibition’s location. The staff at SMOCA harvested tumble weed, or mesquite from the desert which filled a big truck to complete the work.

The concept of what art is has changed with every generation and by the innovative artists in that generation. Betye Saar lived in a culturally rich and exciting time. This was a time of politics, action, and radical social change; a time charged with emotions and turmoil, tempored by art and intellect and the act of trying to make sense of things.  Looking at her work today not only tells us her story, but keeps alive the stories of our shared history, be they harsh, cruel, sentimental, mysterious, beautiful, or loving. That is why Betye’s work and possibly your work will be important to future generations regardless of how art is defined. It matters not how or what we make in terms of art, or if we will be famous, but rather the brave and true act of recording our stories and leaving a message for future generations that can be informative, edifying, healing, and awe inspiring.

The Scottsdale Contemporary Art Center is gracious about photography, so all photographs are by the author. There are no titles. Betye did not want titles listed on the work and she prevailed.  

  1.  January 4, 2012 interview with Juvenio L. Guerra in the Getty newsletter iris
  2. Click on the link to see Betye talk about the Liberation of Aunt Jemima on You Tube 



Jen Bodine: Analytical Organic Chemist + Artist

Fieldworking: San Toy, Ohio

Google Maps did not take me to San Toy, Ohio. It gave me a general approximation but in the end I had to guess. I saw a street sign that said Santoy Road and I turned. San Toy was a rough coal mining town established by the Sunday Creek Coal Company. At it’s height it had a population of approximately 2500, several saloons, a theater, a baseball team, and by some (apocryphal) accounts, a murder every day.

Construction of Mine No.2 San Toy, The Little Cities Archive
Construction of Mine No.2 San Toy, The Little Cities Archive

San Toy only had two mine shafts aptly named Mine No. 1 and No. 2. In September, 1924, a group of disgruntled miners set Mine No. 1 on fire. Three years later when it was time to renegotiate union contracts Sunday Creek decided it was better to abandon the operation than go through negotiations and pay to upgrade equipment. They opted instead to shut the mine down.

Burning of Mine No. 1 San Toy 1927, The Little Cities Archive
Burning of Mine No. 1 San Toy 1927, The Little Cities Archive

Now the area is covered with no trespassing signs, which I am always more than happy to abide by. I was still able to get some nice images from the roadway. The Jailhouse is the most intact building. It is small and squat and sits just off the main road. It is really difficult to reconcile the historical photographs of clear cut landscape and company houses…

San Toy deserted, 1927, The Little Cities Archive
San Toy deserted, 1927, The Little Cities Archive

…with the overgrown, tucked away landscape of today. There are no views at all, only sight lines to the next tree or beyond that to where the horizon rises sharply into another hill. And it is quiet. There are private residences close by, with in walking distance, but it is still very quiet and sound seems to be muffled.

Foundations and Remaining Buildings, San Toy, Images by Molly Uline-Olmstead
San Toy Jailhouse, Image by Molly Uline-Olmstead

The people who live on the road aren’t officially a part of San Toy. The town was unincorporated in 1931 when a majority of the few remaining residents voted to dissolve it. It had the ignoble distinction of being the town in the United States whose population had decreased the most per capita since the previous census (976 in 1920 to just 128 in 1930). My favorite part of the ghost town is the brick roadway peeking through the more recent pavement on Santoy Road.

San Toy Road, Image by Molly Uline-Olmstead
San Toy Road, Image by Molly Uline-Olmstead

I love this. It is like the past is literally pushing through to the present, demanding to be noticed. The opposite is true of the buildings that remain in the area. While these bricks under foot seem to be a sturdy and stoic reminder of the community that used to be here, the scattered foundations and crumbling walls just off the road are folding back into the landscape, slowly and steadily.


Foundations and Remaining Buildings, San Toy, Images by Molly Uline-Olmstead
Foundations and Remaining Buildings, San Toy, Images by Molly Uline-Olmstead


Herstories and How-To’s: Pamela Coleman Smith

Hello everyone!

This month we’re going into the dark and glittery world of La Belle Époque London, where mysticism, masonic secret societies, and Art Nouveau blended into a heady cocktail known as ‘All My Favorite Things.’

Enter if you dare, traveler! (The Cat by PCS, via)

At the heart of this world, lived an artist who made new and fantastical works, some of which went on to influence mystics for generations to come, only to die penniless, alone and relatively unknown. Well, no more I say!

Pamela “Pixie” Coleman-Smith was born in 1878 in London. She was the only child born to an American father and a Jamaican mother. For much of Pamela’s childhood, the family moved between London and Kingston, Jamaica. When she was just 16, she moved to Brooklyn to enroll in the still new Pratt Institute. Her time at Pratt wasn’t smooth sailing- according to many, she was sick throughout her time there, and in 1896 her mother died. Though Pamela left the school in 1897 without a degree, she did go on to become an illustrator (proving that going to school is what’s valuable, not necessarily the degree one obtains).

‘It’s been real, formal education, but now I’m off to Jolly Ol England to chill with Bram Stoker, draw for Suffrage and perform dark rites with Alastair Crowley.(via).

Just two years later, Smith’s father died. She returned to England where, it can be said, she had the richest moments of her career. In addition to her illustration work, she began to take on other jobs as well in theater design. She joined the Lyceum Theater group, led by the Lead Shakespearean Actress (and soon to be dear friend), Ellen Terry, along with Henry Irving and Bram Stoker. For five years, she toured with them, living what this Craft-loving, goth-lite, ex-theater kid can only imagine was a dark and exciting bohemian life. It was during this time that Ellen Terry is said to have given Pamela the nickname (for which she would be known for the rest of her life), “Pixie.” In 1901, Pamela opened a London studio, where she worked and where, once a week, she would hold an open house for all artists, writers (including WB Yeats and his brother Jack), musicians and other artistically minded folks. At these events, everyone would share what they were working on, and enjoy miniature paper-theater performances by Pamela which were often based on Jamaican folk-tales.

Or, as I like to imagine… (via)

The height of Pam’s career came in 1907, when she met Alfred Stieglitz, the famous New York photographer and gallery owner. Being independent, proactive and generally charming, Pamela stopped into his gallery to show him her work. He was impressed with her work, especially given her young age (28) and decided ‘what the heck- let’s have a show!’, making Pam the first painter to have a show at 291 which, until then, had been solely devoted to the photo avante garde. The show, though low-attended at first, eventually enjoyed a huge critical success.  A well-known critic of the time put her in the same category as Artist/Writer/Mystic William Blake, and said called one of her paintings “…absolutely nerve shattering,” that not even Edvard Munch “…could have succeeded better in arousing a profound disquiet.”

‘The Sea Creatures’ (via)

Perhaps Pamela’s best-known work, is that which she’s least known for: The “Rider Waite” Tarot Deck. In 1909, A. E. Waite, fellow member of the Golden Order of the Hermetic Dawn (a great wiki-rabbit hole if ever there was one), commissioned Smith to produce a tarot deck. While Waite is often credited as the co-creater of the deck, in truth he designed the 22 major cards through elaborate description, leaving Smith to interpret those and to design the remaining 56 cards with relative freedom- something which she took total advantage of. In just seven months, Pamela created 78 separate drawings, creating a deck which was the first since 1491 to have illustrations on every card and which was to be the first deck with mass-market appeal. Even decks produced today draw on Smith’s illustrations.

A selection of major cards (above) and minor cards (below) (via)

Sadly, Pamela received barely any money at all for the job (or in her words “I just completed a very big job for very little cash!”), and no royalties. What began as the Smith-Waite deck became the Rider-Waite-Smith deck (Rider being the name of the publisher) and eventually, the Rider-Waite deck. Pamela died in 1951, alone, relatively unknown and so penniless that her drawings and paintings had to all be sold to cover her debts. That the president of US Games believes that “She could have been a millionaire today” only adds salt to the wound.

Whether you believe in tarot cards and other “woo woo” things (as my aunt calls it all), I can only assume that in reading this blog you are not into short shrift given by the patriarchy. While I always love to highlight someone who may have been pushed into the margins, what really seals the deal on PCS for me, is similar to the praise that critic bestowed upon her during that first show: “Pamela Colman Smith is a young woman with that quality rare in either sex- imagination.” Imagination- the ability to conceive of what is not- is at the heart of my art/teaching/life philosophy. It is at the heart of innovation and, I truly believe, the quality most needed to find solutions to the ever-more complex problems we face as a species. So, for this month’s how to, we’re going to talk about how to practice, and strengthen your own imagination:

How to Use Images to Practice Using Your Imagination To Become A Smarter, Better, Less Boring Human.

For the sake of continuity (and because I’m a nerd who totally loves all this stuff), I’ll be using one of Pamela’s drawings, but these same prompts could be used with any image of your choice.



  1. First take stock of what you can see. Look closely- How close or how far are each of the elements? What expressions do you see? For now, try to suspend making any sort of judgement about the image.
  2. Once you’ve spent a good long while looking at the ‘what’ in the image, start to wonder ‘why- Why that expression? Who might it be directed at- someone in the image? Why are all these creatures gathered here? Where might they be (and why?) What do you believe is happening right at this moment in this image?
  3. Turn your attention now to the things you can’t see- What’s inside those towers? Or just beyond the mountains? Or under the water? Or in the mind of that weirdo lobster? If this is a moment in a story, what happened right before? What might happen right after? Or ten years later?
  4. Congratulations! You’re now using your imagination. Go forth and make the world a weirder, better place.