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Graham Blair Woodcuts

Folklore Edition - A Newfoundland Deck of Cards

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Each suit in this deck is organized around different folklore traditions in Atlantic Canada (described below). The Joker cards depict two staples of Newfoundland tales trying to outwit eachother in a game of cards: the down-home hero known as Jack (with a magic sword and apple) and the cunning Devil, disguised here in the clothing of a fisherman from Portugal, another early colonial presence in Newfoundland. Rounding out the deck is a partridgeberry (or lingonberry) design for the backs, plus my own unique number cards and custom tuck box.

Hearts (folklore of the home): The body of passed-down oral tradition known as “Jack Tales” have their origins in the British Isles, but found new life most famously in the Appalachian Mountains and the outports of Newfoundland. These highly formulaic stories usually centre around a clever hero-figure named Jack who, through a combination of generosity and wit, navigates a world of witches, magical creatures, and multiple-headed giants and dragons, in the end overcoming all odds and marrying a princess who is well above his humble social standing. While this prototypical working-class hero appears as one of the Jokers in this deck, the Heart face cards feature some of the figures he encounters in these stories: a witch with a crow familiar and magic sword, a fanciful dragon, and a double-headed giant holding a captive princess.

DIAMONDS (folklore of the sea): The island of Newfoundland juts out pretty far into the Atlantic Ocean, boasting the most easterly point in North America and a time zone that is a half hour out of step with the rest of the world. As St. John's was for centuries an important stopping point for ships carrying goods to and from Europe, pirate ships once roamed the waters looking for victims to plunder. Bartholomew ”Black Bart” Roberts famously looted some twenty-two ships in St. John’s Harbour in June 1720 (sinking all but one in the process), and folklore abounds in Newfoundland about treasure secretly buried on the island by the likes of Peter Easton and other pirates. For the diamonds we have a pirate King and a shark-inspired mermaid Queen (brandishing a narwhal tusk) flanking a mythical giant squid emerging from the depths of the Atlantic. While mermaids are rare and often terrifying, giant squids (in part or in whole) have occasionally washed up on Newfoundland shores over the centuries.

CLUBS (folklore of the woods): Typically described as child-like in size and wearing red pointed hats, Newfoundland fairies don’t have wings and are notoriously dangerous, causing those who wander into the woods to become disoriented and lost ~ sometimes for days or even weeks ~ with no recollection that any time has passed. Their magic can cause people to lose the ability to speak or to become "simple-minded," and if a house is built on one of their pathways, expect a ruckus in your kitchen every night (or worse). Referred to as “the good people” or “the little people” (or sometimes just them), fairies are known to shoot unsuspecting victims with a “blast” causing a wound that eventually erupts with feathers, bones, needles, and yarn ~ bits and pieces found on the body of the King in this deck. Alternately, fairies might lure someone off a cliff by entrancing them with beautiful music or, like the Queen here, steal unattended babies and replace them with sickly, demonic creatures called “changelings.” Fairies are also believed to take animal form ~ perhaps a fox? ~ and at night they steal horses to ride through the woods, returning them exhausted in the morning with braids in their manes. If you go berry picking in Newfoundland, make sure to carry some bits of bread and turn your clothes inside-out as protection. And never wear red!

SPADES (folklore of the night): Especially in the days before electric lights, many ghostly creatures were encountered in the dark nights of outport Newfoundland. Stories are told about the spirits of drowned fisherman, known as haints, helping men returning home late from a day of fishing to unload their catch, like our King here. Perhaps the most terrifying creature of the night is The Old Hag, a spectre who is known to cause sleep paralysis in her victims and will sit on your chest as you are immobilized with fear ~ a fitting Queen of the night. Newfoundland is home to a great variety of birds, including the Great Horned Owl, which provides an eerie soundtrack to a night of haunting, and rounds out the face cards of this suit.