Bryn Mawr College Library Special Collections

 

Pamela Colman Smith Collection, 1896-1900

Part I: Description

Special Collections Department, Bryn Mawr College Library

Copyright © 2004 by Special Collections Department, Bryn Mawr College Library

Extent

Total Boxes: 1
Linear Feet: 1.5

Administrative Information

Provenance

Gift of Mrs. Richard Bull.

Ownership & Literary Rights

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.

Cite as:

Pamela Colman Smith Collection, Special Collections Department, Bryn Mawr College Library.

Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research.

 

 


 

PAMELA COLMAN SMITH 1878–1951

Widdicombe Fair, Pamela Colman Smith Collection, Bryn Mawr College LibraryPamela 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.

 

DESCRIPTION OF THE COLLECTION

This collection consists primarily 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. The collection also 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.

PART II: Box and Folder List

Processing and description by Natalie Abbott and Jennifer F. Barr.

 

Abbreviations Used in Guides
Full List of Guides to the Collections

Last updated: November 13, 2013 , Special Collections at SpecColl@brynmawr.edu