Lisa Hunt’s art style is one of my favorites, with its intricate detailing, expressive features, and delicate grace. What she does with watercolor is nothing short of spectacular.
Hunt had mainly done high fantasy and mythology-inspired art in the past, so to see her take on the traditional American landscape painting is a treat. Look at how she rendered the quilt patterns in the Eight of Pentacles, the softness yet precision of Hunt’s lines.
The Pastoral Tarot celebrates the idyllic life of small towns of New England and the Mid-Atlantic, through the countryside of the Mid-West, and the coastal regions. Each landscape piece is a scene out of Americana, a call back to 20th-century North American life.
The guidebook by Lynn Araujo is a perfect complement. Read, for instance, “The full harvest moon glows amber in the twilight sky, with the hint of a rabbit working his lunar magic. A pair of weeping willow trees frames the scene, one still and calm, the other blowing in the evening breeze.”
Each painting is mesmerizing. You linger to spot all the details, like the frog upon that rock, described as “a lunar totem of change, transition and transformation.” When The Moon card appears in your reading, “engage your imagination” and “don’t be fooled into believing that all the answers will be revealed in the bright light of familiarity.”
The classic RWS Three of Pentacles is depicted on the side of a barn displaying hex signs, a scene from Pennsylvania Dutch country. A friendly neighbor has come over to help, and with teamwork, the three get the job done right. The detail of the three hens that mirror the three people is a nice touch. And look at the detailing of Hunt’s art, everything from the shingles on the barn roof to meticulous research of the symbolism for the hex designs.
In a 21st century world catapulting through the Digital Age, art and media at the hands of AI, and virtual reality affecting our physical reality, the scenes on these cards hearken back to idealized times, recent American history oft remembered by the collective as innocent and bucolic. I feel I can breathe here, take a much-needed moment out of this hectic world and wade into the cold waters of a brook, or smell that clean air and meadow grass.
Explore apple orchards, lavender farms, pumpkin patches, golden cornfields, woodlands, meadows, and lush vineyards. Visit warm seaside vistas, lighthouses, and enjoy the bounty of gardens in full bloom.
Cowboys, milkmaids, farmers, and lumberjacks make up the cast of characters, as do multi-generational families of deer, wolves, birds, and goats.
The scenes in Pastoral Tarot are deeply personal to Araujo and Hunt. We’ll also see the Connecticut River in The Magician card, homages to the Cherokee and Apache in The High Priestess, and the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) in The Hermit.
There’s a John Steinbeck’s America feel to the deck’s aesthetic. I love the realism, depicting scenes of everyday life, and the proletariat sympathies, seen, for instance, in the agricultural strikes that marked the 1930s, a moment of our history captured in this deck’s Seven of Wands where farmer protesters were demanding fair prices for their crops and better treatment for workers.
To that end, I appreciate how the guidebook clarifies that Pastoral Tarot is not about seeing the Silent Generation’s and Boomer’s America through rose-colored glasses, though maybe in some ways, it does–that’d be my only critique of the deck.
The time period suggested by the art encompasses the Great Depression, during the 1930s and 40s, and so what is being showed is resilience and hope in spite of hardships, struggle, financial loss, war, and pain. But does the deck tell the story of this period of American history and culture from a limited point of view, one that doesn’t fully capture the full spectrum of what was happening in the U.S. at that time, such as the racial antipathies that were a key imprint of the 30s and 40s? Yes, perhaps.
In my opinion, there were a few missed opportunities. Returning to the Seven of Wands, why not give light to important moments of US history during the 30s and 40s that the deck is already endeavoring to depict, such as the California agricultural strikes of 1933, which were led by Mexican and Filipino farmers? And if we’re affirming that there is no intention of looking at the Great Depression Era through rose-tinted glasses, then there are certainly swaths of monumental moments happening in the American South that’s being overlooked. That would be my only critique– the time capsule of American history presented here, coming from that somewhat limited point of view.
The majesty of this deck, however, outweighs the critique. The artwork for Pastoral Tarot took five years to complete and the pure-form genius and passion of human creativity is at full display. Hunt noted how each landscape painting began as a sketch. The sketch would then be transferred onto watercolor paper, the detailing refined with mechanical pencil, and then the watercolor paints applied.
Araujo and Hunt have perfectly captured a sense of place in Pastoral Tarot. The exacting level of detail from Hunt gives complexity and a multidimensional characterization of people and space. If the thought and craftsmanship that creators put into a tarot deck enlivens a spirit into the final product, then you truly do feel a genius loci of a bygone Americana come back to life in this box of cards.
In terms of production value, US Games has been top notch as of late. I love the slide-out drawer box and the bonus drawstring tarot bag. Deeply immersive, historically significant, and an exquisite homage to the RWS tarot, Pastoral Tarot is a treasure.
FTC Disclosure: In accordance with Title 16 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations Part 255, “Guides Concerning Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising,” I received the deck from the publisher for prospective review. Everything I’ve said here is sincere and accurately reflects my opinion of the deck and book.