Tarot Chesta by Chester Harris
Review by Diane Wilkes
Many new self-published tarot decks are emerging into the ethers at a rapid rate, in part due to the ease of duplicating imagery via color copiers and printers. Tarot Chesta by Chester Harris is somewhat unique in that each deck is hand-painted. When I received my copy, the smell of oil paint was thick and resonant, and offered a sensory experience into another time, the scent of old-world traditional craftsmanship. It was an aroma I enjoyed inhaling.
While the artist acknowledges the influence of such Golden Dawn staples as cabala and astrology, he also references biblical and mythical roots, as well as pagan folklore. Despite these influences, I find Tarot Chesta a rather personal deck, because the only real consistency is in Chester Harris' individual slant and admixture. One example of this is the Temperance card; its imagery is based on a Vietnamese Boddishatva.
The artistic style of Tarot Chesta would best be described as "naïve" or "primitive." Images are outlined in thick black and are not particularly detailed, yet they contain a bold expressiveness that is quite eloquent. The pregnant Empress sits in a field of air-stirred wheat, embraced by a royal red bird. The High Priestess's reflection in a pool holds the key, though what is in the "real" High Priestess' hands is a scroll. The four symbols on the Wheel's corners are not the traditional alchemical ones. The murky colors of the Moon create an atmosphere of gloomy menace.
One of my favorite cards is the Ace of Swords. A silver butterfly with eyes lights upon an upthrust sword against a powdery-blue background. The vibrancy of this card is evoked by the drawn lines that seem to have a life of their own. This seems in accord with the initial action of thought this card can symbolize. Other cards seem less resonant. The Seven of Cups (below) is unusually energetic for such a stagnant card. While it, like most of the cards, bears some similarity to the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) iconography, eyes looking ahead offer a new twist on the meaning of the card. The Eight of Wands doesn't look remotely fiery with its seascape and the color blue predominating the card.
Cards are oversized and measure approximately four and a quarter inches by six inches. Bright primary colors predominate. They practically burst with bold energy; subtlety isn't an element of Tarot Chesta. Deck backs are designed with an interesting black and white pattern. Suits are Wands, Cups, Swords, and Discs. Strength is numbered VIII and Justice, XI. The deck comes with a silk scarf and a beautiful hand-made box, which the author/artist informed me is often what excites the most interest. You can see some samples of these unique boxes here and here. No two are alike. I haven't actually seen these boxes, but the photographs are quite enticing.
The deck also comes with a unique booklet that has black and white versions of the cards, along with poems for each one. A sample that accompanies the Seven of Cups is:
The four are fixed
One to the other
Illusions of the ego.
The self awaits discovery
Through a search
Some of the poems are shorter, others, longer.
The physical deck is really not one that lends itself to use--the cards are unwieldy because of their size and the cardstock is too thick to allow much in the way of shuffling. It is probably best used for meditative purposes, where the cards' size and intensity lends itself to contemplation and guided visualizations. However, because of its similarity to the RWS, anyone familiar with that deck's imagery would not have too much trouble reading with Tarot Chesta. However, the deck's price ($300) and the fact that only 61 copies are available, make this more of a deck for collectors than the casual tarot enthusiast. While the price seems high, when you factor in the cost of the box and that each card is hand-painted, it seems quite reasonably priced to me. This is a bold deck with a unique charm of its own.
You can see more card samples from Tarot Chesta (and buy this deck) from the artist's website.
Review and page © 2002 Diane Wilkes
Images and cited text © 2002 Chester Harris