In a word, the Midcenturian Tarot is adorable.
The deck is Rider-Waite-Smith based, so it’s an easy deck for readers who are familiar with that method of study. The deck arrives in a grey drawstring jute bag with Manda Clara’s signature question mark screen printed in white. The paper box is printed with a woodgrain pattern and teal lettering. The packaging’s simplicity evoke mid-century Scandinavian and American design aesthetics in a whimsical, delightful, yet understated way; which, if you think about it, is exactly what Mid-century graphic design is all about. This deck makes me happy just looking at the cards, there’s no heaviness to the images. It’s definitely a lighter take on RWS. There is no LWB, but with a deck this straightforward it’s not necessary.
My favorite thing about this deck is the cardstock. The paper is textured in a crosshatch pattern that gives weight to the cards without making them clumsy. Textured cards aren’t something I come across very often, the current trend in tarot decks seems to be either hyper-glossy or matte and flimsy. This deck is a pleasure to shuffle and I think they’ll hold up for a long time. They feel like vintage playing cards, the kind people had embossed with their initials on the back. (Your grandparents had a set, they matched the coasters.) The colors are lush and vibrant, balancing neutrals with pops of brightness.
The illustrations on the cards are geometric line and angle drawings, simple and clean, yet still true to the RWS principle. The influence of Mary Blair and Elaine Lustig-Cohen on Madam Clara’s art can be seen, as well as the color palate of many Scandinavian Mid-century furniture and interior designers.
I love the way the court cards all have cohesive elements, the knights in particular seem sweet and precious, yet each one yearns for adventure. The Queens are aloof, yet magnanimous. The Kings stern, but fair.
The Majors in this deck all ring true to the tradition, but the color choices are where Madam Clara drives her point home. The Moon, a favorite of mine in any deck, brings balance with multiple cool blues, the sharp red of the crawfish, the pop of yellow in her shining face. Strength layers oranges, yellows and greens together to show assurance and fortitude. Temperance’s red wings draw the eye to the center, dividing the image in two, evoking the balance that this card signifies. The High Priestess is probably the most traditional interpretation, but her color palate is deep and draws you in to examine the layers of the subconscious which she represents. The bonus major “The Unknown” evokes the opening titles of “The Twilight Zone” and late-fifties Sci-fi B-movies, letting us expand the readings by adding in the enormity of imagination and the greater questions we seek to answer in our readings.
The Minor Arcana in this deck follow RWS to a tee, which makes reading with this deck simple and clear. Each card is a little nod to the optimism and hopefulness of the atomic age.
My favorite cards of the Minors are the Ace of Cups and the Three of Wands. The colors, the balance, the simplicity of the illustrations really seem to sum up the heart of Mid-century graphic design for me.
My only disappointment here is the usual, most of the people are white. It’s a mid-century stylized deck, but in this day and age we really need to strive for diversity in our art, it’s how change happens.
Over all, this is deck is beautiful. Anyone who appreciates the art and design principles of the 1950s and 60s would love this deck. Because it’s RWS based, it would be a great deck for a beginner as well.
I’d like to thank Bevin and David Early for allowing me to photograph the cards in their gorgeous Mid-Century home. It was the perfect setting to capture the beauty of this charming new addition to the tarot world.