The Centre for Tarot Art

Some ten years ago I began seriously collecting tarot cards and artwork. This grew out of my interest in allegorical and emblematic art. Now in 2012, I have about 2500 items in my collection which is recognised as currently the largest and most comprehensive in the world. I have not been selective but gathered everything I could afford. I have recently realised that I have in my hands an almost complete documentation of the artwork found in modern tarot designs.

I am concerned now to find some way to preserve this collection as a scholarly resource documenting the amazing phenomenon that is tarot art. To this end I intend to set up a Centre for Tarot Art, a body which can act to preserve the collection and avoid it being broken up and sold off piecemeal when I die.

In the last 50 years an enormous amount of creative energy has been focussed on the tarot. Well over three thousand tarot decks have been designed and published in some form. There is a delightful variety of ways in which the various designers and artists have realised new tarot decks. The tarot with its tight structure of 22 major arcana each based on a clear image, and the 56 minor arcana with its four suits of pips and court cards, might seem a restriction on the creative imagination, but the opposite appears to be the case, as there are some astounding interpretations and reworkings of tarot imagery to be found. This recent evolution of the tarot suggests that it has now become a kind of emblem book reflecting the social history of our age back to us.

The Centre for Tarot Art will require some substantial funding. This is unlikely to come through the established world of government art funds, as most art historians at present seem unwilling to recognise the genre of tarot art and instead dismiss it as ephemera. This is partly because they have not been able to examine and appreciate the breadth of artwork found in modern tarot. There are no public collections of tarot art, which is ignored by most museums, libraries and special collections, so access to tarot artwork remains in the hands of individual collectors. My collection could provide a foundation for scholarly studies of the material if it could be kept together and made available to the public.

In the longer term, substantial funding would be necessary to endow the collection so it could be gifted to some museum or library. This would probably require a large sum of around £100,000 ($160,000) which the receiving institution would invest to provide a modest income stream to help pay for the costs of conservation and making the material publicly accessible. As I am 64 this cannot be left indefinitely, and I would hope to be able to find some solution within the next five years.

In the medium term, there are a number of projects that could be undertaken to research the material I have at hand and to promote interest in tarot art. It is essential to have a descriptive catalogue made of all the items. I have already created such descriptive entries for just over one thousand items, but as I have to earn a living through my publications, this is taking too long as I cannot devote the time to it. I have now found an art history student to undertake this, which will probably cost about £2000. There are many educational projects I can think of that could be undertaken to try and promote interest in the artwork, exhibitions, conferences, publications, which would require similar modest funding.

If this project fails to raise the necessary funding, then in the closing years of my life I will have no alternative but to return the material to the tarot collecting community through selling off items piecemeal. This would be a missed opportunity.

Tarot exhibitions.
The Masjutin Tarot - probably the first art tarot.
The Mebes (1937) Tarot.
The Kashmir Tarot.
The Chapel at Avenieres.


Projects in progress

Descriptive Database of published tarots. This is initially based on my own collection. About 1100 items have been entered into the database to date, and I have appointed an art history student to work with me over the coming months to complete the listing. So expect further updates over the next few months.

Descriptive Database of unpublished tarots. In parallel with the descriptive catalogue of published tarots I have been able to find a colleague, Stacy Flinn, here in Scotland, willing to help build a catalogue of unpublished tarot designs. I myself have gathered some hundreds of these over the last years and as some of these are astounding, it would be good to have these in a catalogue which I could eventually place on this website. I will report on progress with this later and post the database onto the web site. I have called on members of the Tarot Collectors Forum to help by sharing information about such unpublished tarots.

Funding through series of private auctions. In order to raise some funding for projects, I am planning a series of auctions of duplicates from my tarot collection. These will be private auctions only open to those who have registered in advance by emailing bookshop@alchemywebsite.com