Toscano Tarot by Kimberly Fordham
Review by Diane Wilkes

Seeing as many tarot decks as I do, I have discovered that, despite my great passion for all things tarot,  it's easy to get jaded. Some decks are pretty, some are good for reading, some offer something new and different, but only rarely do all three combine in a way that is truly exciting. When Kimberly Fordham contacted me to tell me she had completed her second deck, I asked to see a few cards. I know she's quite a collector and has a vast exposure to the tarot, so I wondered what she'd create. I suspected it would be good.

She generously sent me a copy of her deck and, as I looked at the first few cards, I actually started to quiver with excitement. My dream decks, my favorite decks, tend to be collage, but not all collage decks excite me. I want them to offer me new ways to see cards, but not so new as to exclude my knowledge of the archetypal tarot (I can't explain that term...but I understand it in my bones). Arnell Ando, Paula Gibby, and Michele Jackson have all created decks that make my heart thrum, because they offer new windows of revelation that make my readings deeper and more complex.

The Toscano Tarot by Kimberly Fordham had me positively itching to use it in a reading, as I sensed immediately that it would provide a similar window. Of the aforementioned decks, the Toscano reminds me most of Jackson's Evolving Tarot, with its dynamic and dramatic combination of images. In addition, that deck also is framed on the Inspiration Tarot template, so the resemblance is enhanced.

The deck's name is based on the fact that many of the images used in this collage deck are taken from the Toscano Catalogue, which offers "Historical Reproductions for Home and Garden." Hence, many of the cards contain statues as the central symbols (much like the Tarot of Paris, another collage deck), but, because of the riot of striking images in the background, the cards seem to ripple with energy and spirit.

The largest figure in the Fool card, for instance, is a statue of a cherubic-like child, all plump, fearless joy. There are also brightly-colored flowers and monarch butterflies saturating the card, with a little dog looking as if he is trying to catch one of the butterflies in his mouth. Finally, there is an adorable statue of an amazed and mocking gremlin overlooking the scene. The Magician combines various icons of literature (The Wizard of Oz, Atlas Shrugged) into the traditional mix of the four suits to show the many sides of this archetype.

The High Priestess is a favorite card. In the background a full moon is surrounded by mist and dark clouds. Owls and moons and veiled women people the card, but my favorite image is of a black cat with piercingly wise green eyes. She overlooks the scene, one paw outstretched as if to show how perfectly she can draw demarcation lines. You have to work to access her wisdom.

Fordham was clearly influenced by other collage artists--the Hierophant, with its See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil monkeys and striped Cheshire Cat smile lends a Maurice Sendak quality to the card that reminds me of Arnell Ando's Hero's Journey Hierophant.

Choosing six cards to scan was a difficult choice indeed, as there are so many remarkable ones. The Death card (at top) adapts the death-as-passage concept--but by including the skulls at the bottom of the card, Fordham doesn't pretty up the irrevocable nature of the card. The Temperance card is another favorite. I love the way Kimberly uses two statues instead of the traditional central image, because these women show diverse models (naked-to-the-world vulnerability vs. the modest, hidden protectiveness). But the water that flows through the middle of the card suggests an alchemical blending of the two. The Tower card is a tribute to 9/11.

There is a pagan influence on many of the cards in this deck, but Fordham's illustrations are more complex than many other pagan-oriented decks. The World depicts a green goddess whose belly is the world complete. But at the bottom of the card we see three Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) cards in a spread: The Fool and The Tower flank The World card. This suggests to me that we must take the complete fool's journey and survive those tower experiences in order to achieve the World.

Unlike so many artists, Fordham's Minors and Court Cards are equal to her Major Arcana in thought and power. While I instinctively understood the majority of the cards, the Three of Wands confused me a bit. It depicts a lovely dryad-like woman looking face-up to the sun from her seat at a table laden with beautiful cloth and a treasure chest.  Kimberly explained it thus: "The Three of Wands is all about enjoying what we have accomplished, but at the same time looking forward to the next challenge after the initial completion of a goal. A sense of delicious opportunity. There's a good foundation laid, but...what's next? Creative confidence and anticipation, although there will be more hard work required. Discovery; new adventure; envisioning possibilities." I see the card the same way, so once I read her words, the unusual imagery became quite clear...and now it's a favorite version of that card.

Most of the other cards are even clearer, though never the boring, same-old, same-old. Another pagan-themed card is the Seven of Wands, which shows a woman in Puritan garb holding up a lit broom against what she clearly perceives as evil. A large pentacle looms in the background, which Fordham cleverly colored in an angry red. This card is extremely powerful, though simpler in design than the majority of the cards.

The Two of Cups shows the deck creator and her husband attired in Renaissance costume for their wedding, but despite the personal element, the card has a universal resonance. The Nine of Cups shows the happiest of happy Buddhas--it's a card that not only conveys the message of joy, but gives joy to anyone who simply looks upon it. The Nine of Swords communicates a more ominous and foreboding quality, with its murky metal moon, the faces of a haunted harlequin, a menacing clown and a teeth-baring beast. But it's only a dream--we see that from the flame-dressed woman who sleeps in the upper corner of the card.

The Court Cards are also quite engaging. The Queen of Wands is an amalgam of images, but the woman garbed in a maroon cape with her crimson and black wings expresses the passionate nature of this quality beautifully. And Fordham didn't neglect to include the obligatory black cat power animal--this version is particularly Wand-ish, with its clever smirk. The King of Pentacles is a stone-faced, bearded monarch who looks ahead to the future with a stern gaze and great determination. Like several other cards in the deck, it contains a rune (in this case, it's Fehu, which indicates material wealth and acquisition, but also overcoming struggles). There is also a cute and rather silly looking image of a cow (another symbol of Fehu is the Ox).

You can purchase this deck in two formats. While the deck is not for sale, Fordham will make color copies of the images available for the cost of the copies and her time and production costs. The cost is $37 for a set of uncut sheets and shipping, not including box or bag. If you want her to cut out and corner the cards, the price for the complete deck, including shipping, will be $52. While the cards are printed on cardstock, they are not sturdy enough to read with on a regular basis without lamination. Lastly, she will provide a bag or box for an additional five dollars.

By the way,  the Toscano reads exactly as I anticipated. I loved reading with it.  I need two copies of this deck--one to laminate and read with and one to save in pristine form for the collection.

  Yes No
78 cards X  
Reversible Backs X  
Strength VIII, Justice XI X  
Color Images X  
Standard (RWS) Titles of the Major Arcana X  
Traditional (RWS) Suits (Rods/Wands, Cups/Chalices, Swords, Pentacles/Disks) X  
Traditional (RWS) Golden Dawn Suit-Element Attributions X  
Standard dimensions (approx. 4 3/4" X 2 3/4")                   X  
Smaller than standard                                    X
Larger than standard                                                X

Click here to see a reading with this deck.

Click here to email the deck creator, Kimberly Fordham, for more information or to order a deck.

Images 2004 Kimberly Fordham
Review and page 2004 Diane Wilkes