Pamela Colman Smith collection, 1896-1900
Held at: Bryn Mawr College [Contact Us]Bryn Mawr College Library, 101 N. Merion Avenue, Bryn Mawr 19010
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Bryn Mawr College. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
Pamela Colman Smith was an author, illustrator and stage designer. Born in London, she spent most of her youth in England and Jamaica. She was educated at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, which she left in 1897. From a young age she was enthralled by theater, and wrote and staged a series of amateur dramas, for which she also designed the costumes and sets. In 1898, she moved to New York City, where she began selling her illustrations and exhibiting her work in galleries. She returned to England in 1900, where she designed sets for the London stage, and continued to exhibit her artwork.
A significant part of Smith's career consisted of illustrating children's books and collections of folk tales, ballads and verse. Her published works include Widdicombe Fair (1899), Annancy Stories (1899), The Golden Vanity and the Green Bed (1899), and Chim-Chim: Folk Stories from Jamaica (1905). Works by other authors that she illustrated include Christmas Carol, by Edwin Waugh (1898), and In Chimney Corners: Merry Tales of Irish Folk-lore, by Seumas MacManus (1899).
In London, she was friendly with the Yeats family, designing sets for their productions. W.B. Yeats aided Smith in the development of her magazine, The Green Sheaf (24 issues, published from January 1902 to December 1903). Smith traveled with, and designed sets for, the Lyceum Theatre Company, working with Sir Henry Irving, Ellen Terry, and Edith Craig. She also performed small roles in several of the company's productions.
Much of her art revolves around the themes of mysticism and folklore. She incorporated synaesthetic methods into her artwork, creating many images based on musical compositions. In 1907, these works were exhibited in New York at the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession, which was run by Alfred Stieglitz. Smith's was the first non-photographic work to be shown by the gallery.
The Pamela Colman Smith papers house the personal correspondence of Pamela Smith, a well-known author, illustrator, and stage designer. The collection, which ranges from 1896-1900, consists primarily of the outgoing correspondence of Smith to her cousin Mary B. Reed. These letters record Smith's progression as an artist and the first sales of her artwork.
The collection comprises two series: "Series I: Letters to Mary B. Reed" and "Series II: Other Materials."
"Series I: Letters to Mary B. Reed" consists of 17 letters written by Smith between 1896 and 1900 to her cousin Mary B. Reed. The letters were sent from Jamaica, where her family lived for several years, and later from New York and London, where Smith moved to pursue her career as an illustrator. The letters report on her activities writing, designing, and staging amateur plays, and show the development of her work as an illustrator, from the design of theatrical sets and costumes, to advertising posters she created for family friends. The plays she worked on during this period include Henry Morgan, Herne the Hunter, and The Magic Carbuncle. In three successive letters to Reed, Smith describes the action and staging of Henry Morgan in great detail, and provides sketches of several of the scenes. The play is a romantic, adventurous tale of a pirate, hunted by constables in the first act and knighted by Charles II at the end of the play. Smith devotes less detail to the plot of Herne the Hunter, but enthusiastically describes a procession that takes place at the beginning of the play, and includes several sketches of the characters and costumes. Several of the letters mention Smith's work on The Magic Carbuncle, but she does not include any description of its plot or staging. The conception, development, and publication of an illustrated Shakespearean alphabet for children can be traced through some of the letters in this collection. Smith's first sales of her artwork are recorded here, as is her deepening association with the Lyceum Theatre Company. "Series II: Other Materials" contains additional materials, including newspaper clippings, miscellaneous sketches, and an advertisement for a shop that Smith opened in London to sell her prints and services as an illustrator of cards, book plates, and sign boards.
This collection shows the artist's lively spirit and imagination, and make it clear that her nickname of "Pixie Pamela" was very apt. It evidences her creativity and interest in the arts. It would be of worth to anyone interested in Pamela Smith; theater during the turn of the century; Jamaica during the early twentieth century, etc.
- Craig, Edith, 1869-1947
- Smith, Pamela Colman, 1877-1925
- Stieglitz, Alfred, 1864-1946
- Yeats, W. B. (William Butler), 1865-1939
- Bryn Mawr College
- Finding Aid Author
- Natalie Abbott, Jennifer F. Barr, Marianne Hansen
- Finding Aid Date
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research.
- Use Restrictions
The Pamela Colman Smith collection is the physical property of the Special Collections Department, Bryn Mawr College Library. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns.
4 pages Addressed to "Bobby" (Mary Reed). Smith describes social engagements with friends and books she is reading. Discusses the U.S. presidential race between Bryan and McKinley and mentions Henry Morgan, which she is beginning work on.
4 pages Brief note to tell Bobby that she is going to start a longer letter. Mentions The Magic Carbuncle, a play she wrote in one day. Begins a description of Henry Morgan.
8 pages Henry Morgan scenery, Pamela Colman Smith Collection, Bryn Mawr College Library Continues the description of Henry Morgan that she began in a previous letter. Includes a sketch of characters from the play, and a watercolor scene from Act II, Scene 1. Requests that Bobby send her a plot for a new play, and discusses actors Sir Henry Irving, Harry Irving, and Dorothea Baird. Includes a sketch of Baird, after a portrait of the actress. Also includes a sketch of a millinery poster she drew, detailing a woman trying on a hat while another woman sits with a cat at her feet.
12 pages Discusses an early staging of Henry Morgan, describes an idea for a new play, and reports the results of a comical ballad-writing game she played with a friend. Concludes her description of the action of Henry Morgan and includes sketches from Act IV.
6 pages Writes about a performance of Herne the Hunter. Also includes illustrations of characters from this play. Mentions a poster she created for Mr. Vaughn's restaurant, and includes a sketch from that poster, of a woman carrying a steaming bowl of turtle soup. See sketches for Herne...
3 pages Mentions that she has begun a revision of The Magic Carbuncle. Discusses social engagements, and asks about Bobby's studies at the Pratt Institute. Says that she is anxious to know the results of the presidential election. On the back of the last page is a note: "We've just heard McKinley's elected! Ha Ha!"
8 pages Mentions social engagements, current reading, describes a parade of soldiers she saw going past her gate. Includes a sketch of several of the soldiers and officers.
5 pages Describes preparations for a staging of Henry Morgan at the kindergarten school. Includes illustrations from Henry Morgan, and a very rough sketch of a curtain she painted for the staging of the play.
3 pages Brief letter with Christmas greetings. Mentions that she has sent a parcel, including a copy of The Magic Carbuncle.
2 pages Brief note with greetings, exhorts Bobby to send her a long letter with all of her news.
2 pages Talks about dresses she has made for the daughters of family friends, and her irritation that the dresses have been found to be "not nice enough." Describes attending the rehearsal of a local play, acted by schoolboys. Includes a sketch of the parson directing the play.
7 pages Howard Pyle sketch, Pamela Colman Smith Collection, Bryn Mawr College LibraryLetter sent during a trip to New York and Philadelphia. Describes plays she attended, and her Christmas presents, including illustrated books and several Japanese prints. Relates that she sold three works: "Bill Hart" for $50, the "Wind" for $50, and "Fruits and Flowers" for $100. Describes a visit to the Drexel Institute, where she met Howard Pyle. She observed his class, and Mr. Pyle looked at her portfolio. She reports that he found her illustrations "very ingenious and interesting." Her father inquired about the possibility of her enrolling in the school, and Mr. Pyle said she probably could.
4 pages Mentions her current reading, and complains that in Jamaica they are behind a month on American newspapers, and only see the latest telegrams about the Spanish-American war. Describes illustrations she is currently working on, including the Shakespearian Alphabet for Children. The characters she will use for the Alphabet are listed: Ariel, Banquo, Caliban, Dogberry, etc.
3 pages Says that Mr. Russell, a publisher, has taken the Alphabet to London. Also says Mr. Russell asked her to take examples of her illustrations and scenery to show Maude Adams. She did not succeed in seeing Adams, but left her card, and was expecting a visit from the actress. Mentions current work, including an illustration for the Shakespeare's Heroines calendar, and the cover illustration for a book of photographs by Mrs. Kasebier. Reports that she will not attend Mr. Pyle's summer school, because the class was full.
4 pages Reports that she is currently working to finish Widdicombe Fair and awaiting news about whether the Shakespearian Alphabet will be published. Says that she has not seen Maude Adams, but that Mr. Macbeth wants to put on an exhibition of her work in his gallery.
2 pages Mentions that she is writing and illustrating Annancy Stories, and that the Alphabet is going to be published as an "Edition de Luxe" in London, Paris, Berlin, and New York.
1 page Plans to travel to Philadelphia to visit Ellen Terry, to whom she has become close. Mentions working to fill orders of "lampshades, little boxes, etc., etc." for Christmas. Letter is signed "Pixie Pamela," a nickname she says Ellen Terry has given her.
2 pages Discusses her excitement over her upcoming return to England. Describes socializing with Sir Henry Irving, Ellen Terry, and other actors, as well as performing in crowd scenes in Robespierre and the Merchant of Venice.
3 pages Describes her part in a production of Robespierre, in which she played a prisoner, and mentions a brief trip to Edinburgh. Includes sketches of the costumes she wore in Robespierre.
2 pages Writes from London after nine weeks on tour with a drama company. The most recent work she mentions is a series of drawings based on costumes for the play Shockheaded Peter, designed by Edith Craig, Ellen Terry's daughter.