A Celebration of the Material Culture of
Tea Leaf Reading, Teacup Divination,
and Telling Fortunes by Tea Leaves

The Mystic Tea Room | Museum of Fortune Telling Cups | Books about Tasseomancy | La Madama


A Tale of Cultural Entanglement and Confusion


As a spiritual supply merchant, i have repeatedly been asked -- since around the year 2010 -- whether we carry La Madama statues in my shop, The Lucky Mojo Curio Compnay. Our store is centered on serving the needs of those who practice African American hoodoo folk-magic, but we also carry goods of interest to practitioners in a variety of magical, folkloric, and religious taditions. What i tell those who inquire is that La Madama, which is a Spanish term, is not a phrase i have ever encountered in hoodoo or conjure practices of the United States South, and, in fact, the name refers to a group of spirits who originate within the religion of Espiritismo, which is quite popular among Cubans.

I have written a brief page about La Madama at the Association of Independent Readers and Rootworkers, and you may read it there before returning to this page:

Now, although La Madama is not part of African American conjure culture, the spirit of a deceased black card reader or palm reader is definitely found in African American culture. Here is a portrait from life of just such a woman. It was painted by the American artist Harry Roseland and shows a black woman reading tea leaves for her young, white client:

So who is La Madama -- and why do white women who are playing at Afro-Cuban religious magic suddenly want statues of her?

La Madama statues represent a middle-aged, heavy-set woman of African descent, dressed in 19th century house-clothes as a domestic worker, cook, or servant.

In America these statues are called Mammy statues, and they carry a lot of racist baggage with them. To many modern Whites, it probably seems safer to call them "La Madama" and to pretend that they have a Black CUBAN "Madame" in their "spiritual cuourt" than to say, "I feel attracted to the spirit of an old-time slvaery-era MAMMY."

Let's look at some of the history of these statues -- who they represent, and how they have been regarded in the USA and elsewhere.

The earliest of the Mammy statues were called "Aunt Chloe" figures, after the wife of the title character in the 1852 anti-slavery novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin" by Harriet Beecher Stowe. Pairs of ceramic Uncle Tom and Aunt Chloe figures used to be made for mantelpiece decor. Aunt Chloe was a cook, and she is usually depicted with a food basket.

Here is an Aunt Chloe statue from the 19th century:

Uncle Tom and Aunt Chloe figures were popular in other nations as well as the United States, due to the world-wide popularity of the book "Uncle Tom's Cabin," which was said at the time to be the most important convincer to people that slavery was wrong. Even after slavery officially ended in America in 1863, the book remained a consistent seller and gave rise to numerous stage-play productions.As late as the 1930s, these plays were still being "quoted" in movies that had nothing to do with slavery or its history, but were, instead, fictions about theatrical life. Even Shirley Temple did a turn as Little Eva in a play-within-the-play segment of the 1936 movie "Dimples."

Here is an Uncle Tom and Little Eva statue made in England:

After the end of slavery, black women in America were often employed in the food industry or as domestics. The old Uncle Tom and Aunt Chloe figures were titled as The Butler and Mammy. To some people, these would also be known as Aunt Jemima and Uncle Mose (see below):

Eventually, as fewer households employed butlers, The Butler (sometimes called Uncle Mose) was replaced with a new figure, The Chef. The Chef, like Aunt Chloe and Mammy figures, is a cook. Mammy and Chef figures usually have both hands on their hips. Sometimes they hold a spoon in one hand as well.

Here is a Chef and Mammy pair of salt and pepper shakers from the mid 20th century:

The Chef and Mammy became such well known icons that they lent themselves to commercial imagery as the logo-characters for brands of food. The Chef became "Rastus, The Cream of Wheat Man" and "Mammy" became "Aunt Jemima," purveyor of Pancake mix.

Here is an image of Rastus the Cream of Wheat Man, modelled by the actual chef Frank L. White (1867 - 1938), an American citizen born in Barbados:

Here is a package of Aunt Jemima Pancake Mix:

Here is a modern hands-on-hips version of the old Aunt Chloe / Mammy / Aunt Jemima figure sold in a Cuban-American Santeria-oriented shop under the name "La Madama":

Here is another La Madama statue, holding a broom, as befits her role as a domestic servant:

Okay, now that you understand that these Mammy statues were not originally *created* as La Madama figures, but are re-purposed statuary designs that have carried various names over the past century and a half, you will understand that they do not represent one spirit, in the way that a Catholic saint statue does. La Madama is a collective *type* of spirit, and old slave grandmother who works as a cook or cleaning woman, and who is proficient at reading cards. In Cuba she is known as La Madama, but in the United States she is a "Black Gypsy" or "Coloured Fortune Teller."


catherine yronwode, Lucky Mojo Hoodoo Rootwork Hour
September 1, 2013;

Listen to the La Madama Mammy Audio File

transcription of 54:25 to 62:50 by nagasiva yronwode

I'm just going to tell it just as straight as can be. Be prepared for some curse words because i'm full of anger and heat on this subject, but i'm also very clear-sighted on this subject. okay?

"La Madama" means "The Madame," okay? That's what it means. It's Spanish. okay? It comes out of Cuban African Traditional Religions {ATRs}. Those Cubans, you know, they're 90 miles away from the U.S. They got a bunch of old Mammy statues.

Do you know what a Mammy is?

Mammy: Black, slave woman, overweight, works in the kitchen, nurses babies -- *White* babies that belong to slave *masters*.

She's called a "Mammy" because she's a wet nurse, and then, when the children are no longer needing breastfeeding, she becomes the cook, right? And she gets heavyset because she's a cook and the White people want her to feed them lots of *salt* because they've got different kidney set-ups than she does from her Central African background. And boy, the Mammy usually is overweight, but "what a good cook."

"She's my Mammy" -- there is sentimentalism in it, there's tropes, there is ugly stereotyping.

Big fat lips on the Mammy, big white rolling eyeballs on the Mammy, huge bosom on the Mammy.

But, there's also the love of the Mammy, the Mammy who, even when the girl becomes older, it's *Mammy* she goes to, not to her mother, because her mother was a society bitch who was, like, really rich, and who, like, dressed slim and wouldn't breastfeed her because it might have made her breasts fall. So she had the Mammy.

And of course like any little *mammal* -- because we are *mammals* -- the little girl bonds to the *Mammy*, okay?

We have Mammy shopping lists, we have Mammy cookie jars, we got -- i mean we're *full* of it! Right? Mammy this, Mammy that.

Now, I have a whole page on Mammies, i'll tell you, and 'La Madama' *so called*, okay?

These Cubans, they saw that, they're seein' the same things. The fuckin' Brits, they loved Uncle Tom's Cabin too. Aunt Chloe, right?, and Uncle Tom. Aunt Chloe is always shown with a basket of food. She's the good Mammy. The Mammy is an important part of slavery society. okay?

Now, what happens after slavery? Well, of course black people are freed. They don't have to be Mammies no more, they don't have to breastfeed other people's children no more. But, they still work as domestics. Why? Because of *social* segregation, and social segregation got *worse* after the Civil War.

Instead of having the Mammy in the home and having this kind of conflicted but essentially loving relation with the Mammy, suddenly it's about payment and it's about hiring domestics, and who can hire them. The rich people still hire them. And they *still* fuckin' call 'em 'Mammy'.

Do you know that one of my boyfriends when i was a woman in my late teens -- and this man, he didn't mean anything bad by it, he came from a well-meaning family from New York -- he actually took me home to his frickin mansion in Mount Kisco, New York, and in back of the house there was a woman who lived, who had been his -- not wet nurse, i mean, they were beyond that, they bottle-fed him -- but this woman had been his, like, caretaker, right? And he said, "I'd like you to meet my Mammy." I almost shit a fuckin' brick, man. It was 1966, okay? And he meant only well by it.

Now, you got all this goin' on, this context. And then, some frickin white gals get all into Cuban ATRs, right? "Oh! Well, they have La Madama!" I'm sorry, but they're a little bit more culturally mixed, and their history of slavery is a little different than ours.

They did get those little statues, sure they did. But they have a different attitude in the ATRs. It's about the wise black woman who maintains an African connection. Sure! Yes, in fact it is, and there *are* such spirits. No question about it. They are often fortune-telling spirits and they are often spirits who are shown with a broom, a domestic who sweeps problems out of the way.

Now the fortune-telling spirits. We're going to go on about Harry Roseland. okay?

Harry Roseland was an artist who lived in New York City. Actually he lived in, well, i think it was Brooklyn, and he painted pictures of Coney Island and he was totally liberal. He wanted total social integration, civil rights for black people, and he painted a lot of paintings on this subject. But, one of the people he painted was a black woman fortune-teller. He painted probably 35 portraits of her -- of her reading cards, of her with a crystal ball, of her reading tea leaves. He painted her repeatedly, mostly reading for his own white daughters, who were all dressed up in frilly Gibson girl clothes with parasols.

Now, those pictures -- Harry Roseland was a *fantastic* artist, i mean, really beautiful artist, and he really loved this woman and he painted her accurately in her home.

He was a commercial artist as well as a popular gallery-type artist -- and his pictures were picked up and they were made into post cards. They were printed in the colour Sunday supplements of all the New York newspapers and all up and down the East Coast. These Sunday Supplements were shipped to newspapers all around the country that ... they would insert these colour supplements. So you can still find 'em.

Go on eBay, look up Harry Roseland -- you'll find all these prints of this woman fortune-teller. It's always the same lady. She's got her knitting basket, she's got the white girls, and she's a reader.

This got fused in Cuba -- i mean, 'member, these people are only 90 miles away from the U.S., and we're always going over there to their casinos, and back and forth, before Castro. It was like our back yard down there in Cuba.

They took from some of those pictures the idea of the old black fortune-teller lady -- and this woman was a real woman, he didn't make her up -- this is what we presented to Cuba, and that's where the La Madama, the idea of La Madama as a card reader came from, as opposed to La Madama, the woman of African descent who sweeps away the problems.

Now, comes the internet, and comes a lot of white people and they're all about, like, "Ooh! I want a La Madama too!" Right? And they're goin' out on eBay and they're buying fuckin' *Mammy* statues and *Mammy* dolls, and they won't call it "Mammy."

They don't want to call it "Mammy," because that brings up the whole conflicted issue of race in America, doesn't it? So, they want to call it "La Madama."

"Do I have La Madama in my Court?"

*Fuck no!* You have a Mammy statue! And i'm channelling Dr. E. on that one. I've heard him say it in just about those words. He gets calls from people all the time. "Do I have La Madama in my Court?" "No! You bought a Mammy statue on eBay." Okay?

Now, is Mammy a card reader? Maybe yes, maybe no.

Are there black card readers? Yes, yes, yes!

You can contact spirits not of your culture, but for God's fuckin' sake, unless you are initiated in Santeria, or a follower of Santeria, or Espiritismo, or some of these Cuban things, don't go playin' all fuckin' "La Madama" on me!

Just fuckin' notice it!

It's a black woman fortune teller and she's a spirit, okay? She's a spirit, and she's a fuckin' African American. She ain't no fuckin' La Madama, and she ain't nobody's Mammy either. She's a lady that, maybe, can help you.

Now, a lot of times people have ancestors who are black and they don't know it. Maybe you are black, maybe you are white, i don't know and i don't care. But if you "have a La Madama as an ancestor" -- you may [actually] have a black reader in your past. You may. You may. It's not entirely impossible for people as white as white. And you know, we talk about a "reader," but she might have been your family's Mammy...

[Co-host ConjureMan Ali interjects: Or a black reader that your ancestors *went* to ...]

...or that they went to. Their ancestors might have gone. That's right.

And down in the chat room, Board Op Lucky Mojo, nagasiva, says, "Aunt Caroline Dye."

Jesus, now there was a woman who was a reader. She was in Newport, Arkansas. People came from all around the country to see her. And she was a black reader.

There were *many* many black women readers going back to the Civil War era and *before*. These were free women of colour and you can read about 'em at

But we don't need to be borrowing somebody else's religion in order to have a contact with a black woman, card reader, tea leaf reader, or even a domestic cook of the past.

You see what i'm sayin'? Okay, now i know i've offended every fucking person here and i don't give a fuck, okay? End of it! Now we turn it over to Deacon Millett. See what you can pick up after i threw everything on the floor.


How did the Mammy come to be known as a fortune teller? Well, that is an interesting tale. There were and always have been African American card readers, tea laf readers, crystal ball readers, clairvoyants, spirit mediums, palm readers, and root doctors. But they were not generally portrayed as Mammies.

The fusion of the Mammy and the Fortune teller was the accidental byproduct of the artistry of one man, Harry Roseland (1868-1950), a genre painter who portrayed an elderly fortune teller in Brooklyn who happened to read for folks out of her home -- that is, in her living room and in her kitchen, in front of her fireplaces. The images of the professional reader in her parlour were discarded in time, but the images of her reading for clients and mixing up rootwork remedies in her kitchen became fused with the kitchen-bound Mammy in the popular mind, and led to the visual trope of the Mammy-as-reader.

Because Roseland photographed his subjects as reference for his oil paintings, we can see how he posed his subjects, moved props in and out of the frame, and, in some cases, composited portions of one photo with another, much as a modern artist would now use a graphic editing system like Photoshop.

I have listed elements used in the pictures. In some cases they help us date the paintings or the give us clues into the sequence or number of photo shoots. Do not let details such as hair-colour or dress-colour distract you from seeing the black-and-white photos from which these paintings were derived.

Tea Leaf Reading: Paintings by Harry Roseland

This series of paintings arises from a single photo-shoot at which the fortune teller, reading tea leaves, is attending upon three young Caucasian female clients. The date of the photo-shoot is unknown, but the clothing styles seem to indicate a time period of 1890 - 1899.

We begin with the female African American fortune teller and the full complement of the three young female Caucasian models who attended the photo-shoot from which this group of paintings developed. I have assumed, as have others, that at least two of these young women were Roseland's daughters; he used them as models in other paintings as well.

The Love Drop by Harry Roseland
(Postcard Version; 3 3/4" X 5 1/2", Copyright 1906, American Journal Examiner; back of card reads "Compliments of Kelley and [xxx] Sunday American)
Elements: Three Clients, Straw Hats, Parasols, Knitting Equipment in Hat Box, Loose Yarn Balls, Cup and Saucer, Kitten, Table with Cloth, Three-Rung-Straight-Back Chair, Rocking Chair, White Crocheted Shawl, Cauldron over Fire, Arched Fireplace, Rag Rug

"The love drop" is a tea leaf reader's term of art referring to the last drop that falls from the cup as it is swirled and prepared for image-reading. The love drop is always dripped into the saucer, which we see here below, on the floor, and, unlike the rest of the tea leaves, which may symbolize diverse life situations, it provides a special glimpse into love affairs only. Its use may derive from the traditions of Irish tea leaf readers, who tend to read the leaves in the saucer, not in the cup.

Next, one woman is eliminated from the photo-shoot. We now see the female African American fortune teller with two young female Caucasian models. These are the women i am calling his daughters. One has a hat that is upswept in the back. There is ruching on her sleeves and her skirt is tiered. The other has a flatter hat, with a simpler crown, and her skirt is not tiered. Both women have parasols.

Reading Tea Leaves by Harry Roseland
(Large Print Version; 1910)
Elements: Two Clients, Straw Hats, Parasols, Knitting Equipment in Hat Box, Loose Yarn Balls, Cup and Saucer, Brown Tea Pot, No-Kitten, Table with Cloth, Three-Rung-Straight-Back Chair, Rocking Chair, White Crocheted Shawl, Rectangular Fireplace, Rag Rug

The third series of tea leaf reading paintings features the female African American fortune teller with one young female Caucasian model.

The Fortune Teller a.k.a. Reading Tea Leaves by Harry Roseland
(Large Print Version; Undated)
Elements: One Client, Straw Hat, Parasol, Knitting Equipment in Hat Box, Loose Yarn Balls, Cup and Saucer, Brown Tea Pot, Kitten, Two-Rung-Straight-Back Chair, Rocking Chair, White Crocheted Shawl, Arched Fireplace, Rag Rug

The Fortune Teller by Harry Roseland
(Post Card Version; Undated)
Elements: One Client, Straw Hat, Parasol, Knitting Equipment in Hat Box, Loose Yarn Balls, Cup and Saucer, Brown Tea Pot, No-Kitten, Two-Rung-Straight-Back Chair, Rocking Chair, White Crocheted Shawl, Rectangular Fireplace, Rag Rug

Seeing into the Future
(Undated; Large Print Version)
Elements: One client, Cup, No-Kitten, Rectangular Fireplace, Bellows

The fourth series of tea-leaf reading paintings that derives from this photo-shoot moves in for closeups of the model with the up-turned hat, now at a table, and we also see a brown tea pot and a leather knife case.

The Oracle by Harry Roseland
(Undated, circa 1899)
Elements: One Client, Brown Tea Pot, Tea Pot, Knife-Case, Yarn Balls, Cauldron over Fire, Arched Fireplace, Crooked Picture

In December 2013 at the Ebay auction site, a large scrapbook album page was offered for sale on which was pasted down a 12" x 9" sheet apparently cut from a slick-paper magazine or book on art, containing a black-and-white reproduction of this painting. Under the image is the following legend: "The Oracle by Harry Roseland. This is a reproduction of an oil painting typical of the modern American school both in subject and treatment."

Reproduction of his work in an educational venue of this type indicates the respect and honour accorded to Roseland at this point in his career; as a member of "the modern American school," who created "oil paintings," he was being presented to the public as a fine or gallery artist who kindly allowed his images to be reproduced for commercial purposes, rather than as a commercial artst who just happened to be a good painter.

The problem with being a gallery painter who had a side-career as a commercial artist is evident in a comparison of this black-and-white reproduction of what was obviously a full-colour oil painting with the next image below. The second version (title unknown, but i shall call it "The Oracle II" until i find a titled version of it) is a copy of the first one.

The Oracle II by Harry Roseland
(Undated, after 1899)
Elements: One Client, Brown Tea Pot, Tea Pot, Knife-Case, Yarn Balls, Arched Fireplace, Crooked Picture

Roseland repainted "The Oracle" (see the entry immediately above) in order to sell reproduction rights to a calendar, postcard, or print-making company. The copy was probably made after 1899. The most notable differences on immediate viewing are the change in the fortune teller's chair, the addition of a striped edging to the table cloth, and the deletion of the fireplace tongs at right, to compensate for the higher chair-back in the second version.

I assign this version as the copy rather than the original due to a number of factors.

First, there is the blurring out of details on the cast iron cauldron, feather whisk, and parasol, which, to me, are indications of more hurried work and also passing time: The fireplace tongs and cauldron were obsolete kitchen utensils and the parasol was an obsolete article of clothing after 1910.

Second, the addition of a striped edge to the table cloth also places this in a later group of images, for none of the earlier ones feature this detail. In fact, what we are calling a table cloth may have been a simple piece of sheeting or a rag used for modelling purposes at the original photo-shoot, which was only gradually developed into a formal table cloth in later renditions.

Third, this painting falls into the group in which an attractive slate-blue colour-palette is introduced, possibly to take advantage of the cyan plate in four-colour lithography. This colour-range is not evident in any of the older paintings, and i believe it was intentionally developed for Roseland's commercial publishing clients.

The copy is undated, but i do not believe it to be a late copy, because in the latter, the specificity of the fortune teller's face, as well as the faces of her clients, becomes lost, and the women begin to vary in age and phenotype, in keeping with changing social memes and the needs of commercial clients. Additionally, in later paintings, Roseland uses a flatter, broader brush stroke, and begins to work in what can best be described as a nascent Art Deco style, with a new emphasis on the pastel colour pallette so popular in that era.

The Tea Cup's Fortune-Telling by Harry Roseland
(1906, dated and signed at middle right; this is a postcard version of the painting)
Elements: One Client, Red Tablecloth, Brown Tea Pot, Parasol, Knife-Case, Yarn Balls; Candle Stick, Crooked Picture

Here we return to a more naturalistic rendition of the original photo shoot. The close-up composition works well in the horizontal postcard format. The tablecloth is unstriped, the parasol is distinctly rendered, and other elements are precise in detail. A comparison of this painting with the two immediately above makes it obvious that this picture was modelled after photos taken at the same sitting as The Oracle and the copy that i am calling The Oracle II.

Reading Tea Leaves
Elements: One Client, Striped Table Cloth, Bellows, Chairs

I have never seen this painting as a print; the coarseness of the brush-strokes and lack of detail would seem to indicate that it was a quickly rendered miniature oil-paint study for a larger work which was never realized. However, compare it with the finished painting titled "Reading Her Cards" from the card reading series. Both were obviously posed and photographed at the same session.

The Cup Reader
(Undated, circa 1920s)
Elements: One Client, Table Cloth, Blue and Cream Porcelain

During the 1920s, America experienced a fashion-fad of nostaligia for the Colonial and Early Victorian periods. This painting uses elements from Roseland's original tea-leaf photo-shoot but replaces the original Late Victorian clothing and simple brown tea pot with then-nostalgic Early Victorian costume and fancy blue-patterned china-ware. The flatter pastel-colour pallette also mark this as a work of the 1920s.

Costume details aside, the most important differences between this late painting and the naturalistic ones of twenty to twenty-five years earlier is the smile on the reader's face. Roseland was making the reader appear "cheerful and loving" in keeping with changing tropes of the period, in which the public was increasingly presented with nostalgic images of "Happy Negro Slaves" who had functioned in a fictionally value-neutral ante-bellum South. Thus the naturalistic depictions of a real-life elderly African American fortune teller who lived in Brooklyn, New York, circa 1890 - 1915 are recast as images of the generic Loving Mammy of Dixieland.

If you look more closely at this image, you will also notice the client's intimate and child-like petting of the Mammy's wrist. This is an obvious gestural signal to the viewer that the two women know and love one another and that the older woman was once the younger's care-taker. We are no longer being shown glimpses into the professional practice of an independent black American fortune teller or spiritual root doctor who is consulted by adult white female clients; rather what we see is an intimate and happy domestic moment shared between a household slave or servant and the young girl who grew up under her care and is now embarking on expectant adulthood. The Mammy in the kitchen who performs the function of a diviner for the child she raised does so in a loving, maternal manner, and only brings good tidings to the girl.

The serious and occasionally stern-faced fortune telling woman of the 1890s was one of several figures whom Roseland presented to his white gallery-art clients as documentary evidence of the struggle for full social and financial equality engaged by post-Emancipation black Americans in the era following upon the desperate financial panic and depression of 1893 - 1897. In a future article, currently in preparation, i will examine other images of this type and seek to place the fortune teller series within the broader context of Roseland's anti-apartheid political agenda.

Beginning in 1898, as a 30-year-old genre artist, Roseland had carefully depicted the fortune teller as an independent agent, albeit a member of the economic lower classes. The fortune teller broke social norms and conventions of the period by inviting adult white women into her home, where she divined their futures on her front parlour sofa or prepared hoodoo remedies for them in her kitchen. However, by the 1920s, his presentation of the same woman was that of a pleasing domestic servant who lived a life of economic dependency in the kitchen of a white family. Her valuable ability to read for clients had been reduced to a trivial and curious expression of Negro superstition, with which she affectonately entertained the Little Miss of the household.

We may well wonder if this significant change in the implicit programmatic values conveyed by Harry Roseland's fortune teller images -- in particular, the sharp shift from an elderly woman's indominable claim on independence, empowerment, and equality during a time of widespread economic disarray to a comfortable acceptance of second-class citizenship during a time of rising social inequality and Jim Crow laws -- does not indicate an erosion or effacement of the artist's earlier social values. In my opinion, and i say this in the absence of any written record of Harry Roseland's attitudes toward his subjects, i think that what the shifted images show us are, sadly, not a loss of political values, but rather an aging commercial artist's financial need to meet the changing requirements of his commercial art clients. By drawing upon his old photo-shoot to repackage an extremely popular series of images, Roseland was able to keep his career going, even though his work had finally made the slip from documentary genre paining of "the modern American school" to full-tilt commercial art, in which both realism and the artist's vision of the world must be subsummed to the art-client's mercantile goals of pleasing and amusing the buyer of the product to which the image is affixed.

Card Reading: Paintings by Harry Roseland

I have collected a series of 14 paintings in which the black fortune teller is reading cards. The cards are a pack of ordinary playing cards, and the layout the reader uses seems most often to be three rows of five, a popular 19th century spread called The Fifteen Card Method.

It is obvious that this series was difficult for Harry Roseland to compose, due to the small size of the cards and their indistinct markings. Perhaps the most beautiful image is the 1898 paining "It's All in the Cards," in which the cards are seen very clearly against the black leather of the sofa, but this composition might be judged unsuccessful to the popular eye because the reader's back is turned to the viewer.

In 1899, a different painting from the same photo-shoot was released, titled "Reading the Cards," but although in this painting we can see the reader's face, it in the first in which the ungainly devise of the hat box lid was introduced as a reading surface. No real card reader would ever use a small, light-weight circular surface to read by the Fifteen Card Method, and all subsequent images in which the hat box lid appears are lacking in the naturalism for which Roseland was justly celebrated. Only a card-reader might pick up on the awkwardness, of course -- and to the public, these hat-box-lid scenes probably look just fine.

In his repeated attempts to capture the essence of the card readings, Roseland posed his subjects in a wide variety of seating arrangements, moving from the sofa to a table. The table was -- and remains -- the standard surface for card reading, but the angle was too tall for Roseland to clearly show the faces of the cards. He can only show the reader holding a card, never the full layout.

At this point he left the world of naturalism and began setting up paired chairs with a variety of stools between them on which a flat surface was laid for the card reading. In some cases he resorted to the awkward device of a lap-board.

The lid of the reader's hatbox, in which she keeps her knitting, provides an incredibly fragile and awkward reading surface; better is the wooden checkerboard. The latter may look like a random square of wood to a viewer unfamiliar with the other paintings Harry Roseland made of this family, but there are several in which the reader's husband and grandchildren play checkers on this same board.

Finally, as a last resort, he places the reader on the floor, in imitation of European "Gypsy card reading" paintings of his era. While the compsition is satisfactory, the reader must now employ the typical Gypsy arc-of-cards layout, whch was pretty obviously not this woman's chosen method. Not only that, seeing the reader, obviously an elderly lady with mobility issues, seated on the floor is a bit odd: you just know she would never have done that herself, and you can only imaging how her bones ached after taking that pose!

As with all of Harry Roseland's other paintings, titles were often re-used, especially when the images were to be printed in sets of six postcards, so i have given each image a unique descriptor. I have organized them roughly by location within the home, number of clients, and then chronologically.

1 Harry-Roseland-It-s-All-In-The-Cards-1898-Sofa-Chair-One-Client.jpg
2 Harry-Roseland-Reading-The-Cards-1899-Hat-Box-Lid-Lap-Sofa-One-Client.jpg
3 Harry-Roseland-The-Fortune-Teller-1910-Card-Reading-Hat-Box-Lid-Lap-Sofa-One-Client.jpg
4 Harry-Roseland-The-Fortune-Teller-Undated-Card-Reading-Hat-Box-Lid-Lap-Sofa-Chair-Two-Clients.jpg

Table and Chairs
5 Harry-Roseland-Pick-A-Card-Undated-Red-Tablecloth-Chairs-Two-Clients.jpg
6 Harry-Roseland-Reading-Her-Cards-Undated-Banded-Tablecloth-Chairs-One-Client.jpg

Chairs and Stools
7 Harry-Roseland-Reading-The-Cards-Undated-Four-Legged-Stool-Chairs-Two-Clients.jpg
8 Harry-Roseland-The-Prophesy-Of-The-Cards-1923-Checker-Board-Four-Legged-Stool-Chairs-One-Client.jpg
9 Harry-Roseland-Reading-The-Cards-1903-Checker-Board-Lap-Chairs-Two-Clients.jpg
10 Harry-Roseland-The-Fortune-Teller-1903-Card-Reading-Checker-Board-Hat-Box-Kitchen-Stool-Chair-One-Client.jpg
11 Harry-Roseland-The-Fortune-Teller-1908-Card-Reading-Hat-Box-Kitchen-Stool-Chairs-One-Client.jpg
12 Harry-Roseland-The-Fortune-Teller-Undated-Card-Reading-Hat-Box-Footstool-Chairs-One-Client.jpg
13 Harry-Roseland-The-Fortune-Teller-Undated-Card-Reading-Hat-Box-Lid-Lap-Chairs-One-Client.jpg

14 Harry-Roseland-The-Fortune-Teller-1904-Card-Reading-Floor-And-Chair-One-Client.jpg

It's All in the Cards
Elements: One Client, Sofa, Rag Rug, Playing Cards, Hat Box

Reading the Cards
Elements: Sofa, One Client, Playing Cards, Rag Rug, Hat Box,

The Fortune Teller
(1910; signed, oil on canvas, 20" x 30")
Elements: Playing Cards, Sofa, One Client, Footstool, Hat Box, Rag Rug, Purse

The Fortune Teller
Elements: Sofa, Playing Cards, Rag Rug, Two Clients

Pick A Card
Elements: Table, Red Tablecloth, Brown Teapot, Chairs, Rag Rug, Workbasket, Yarn Balls, Two Clients

Reading Her Cards
Elements: Table, Striped Tablecloth, Chairs, Rag Rug, One Client

Reading the Cards (1903; Square Lap Board, Two Women)

The Fortune Teller (1903, square checker or Chess Board on Hat Box)

The Fortune Teller
(1908, Unsigned; 11 1/2" x 11 1/2"; this was a calendar print for McCormick farm implements, hence the square format; see a fuller version of the calendar above)
Elements: Playing Cards, Hat Box, One Client, Kitchen Stool

The Fortune Teller
Elements: Playing Cards, Lap, Hatbox Lid, Chairs, One Client

The Fortune Teller
Elements: Playing Cards, Hat-Box, Footstool, Chairs, Work Basket, Loose Balls of Yarn, One Client

Reading the Cards
(Undated, Oil on Canvas; 20" x 32", Signed Upper Middle Right)
Elements: Playing Cards, Four-Legged Stool, Chairs, Bellows, Braided Rug, Two Clients

The Prophesy of the Cards
Elements: Playing Cards, Checkerboard, Four-Legged Stool, Chairs, Two Clients

The Fortune Teller
Elements: Playing Cards, Floor, One Client

Crystal Gazing: Paintings by Harry Roseland

I have found 2 paintings in which the black fortune teller is reading a crystal ball, but there is a third painting which is attributed online to "Luca Sacco, after Harry Roseland," which i have included here and described below.

Crystal Ball (Undated)
Elements: Crystal Ball, Floor, One Client, Red Tablecloth, Parasol, Purse, Straw Hat, Yarn Balls, Arched Fireplace

What the Crystal Says (1908; Postcard)
Elements: Crystal Ball, Rocking Chair Two Clients, Straw Hats, Parasol, Window

Note: This postcard reproduction appears to be a cropped version of a much larger painting that was copied by Luca Sacco before 1912, which is shown immediately beow.

The Fortune Teller by Luca Sacco, After Harry Roseland (Undated; before 1912)
Elements: Crystal Ball, Rocking Chair Two Clients, Straw Hats, Parasol, Window, Hat Box, Yarn Ball, Bed, Man's Hat, Desk

"Luca Sacco (1858 - 1912) was born in Sanremo in 1858. He moved to Genoa when he was very young and later studied at the Academy. There he won a competition for a work intended for a church in Philadelphia ("Cristo in Croce con ai piedi le Pie Donne"). He painted mostly portraits, as well as some genre and historical pictures and religious frescos. From 1882 to 1892 he displayed regularly at the Genoa Promotrice. Other known works include a fresco for the the parish church in Bolzaneto (Genoa), and a portrait of Umberto I now in the Palazzo del Comune, Sanremo. He died in Brooklyn, NY, in 1912."
- See more at:

Because Luca Sacco was in Brooklyn before 1912, there is a clear link between him and Harry Roseland. This appears to be a copy of an otherwise undocumented painting by Roseland that was cropped for use as the 1908 postcard directly above. At the time, professional artists down on their luck often worked as copyists, producting very credible reproductions of works by "the Masters."

Palmistry: Paintings by Harry Roseland

I have collected 13 paintingw in which the black fortune teller is reading her client's palm.

Palm Reading
Elements: Sofa, Palmistry, One Client, Parasol, Hat Box

Palm Reader
(1890; apparently a cropped version of the following painting; the date seems wrong to me; i would think it would have been from 1898)
Elements: Palmistry, One Client, Chairs, Rag Rug, Parasol, Hat Box, Arched Fireplace, Yarn Balls, Kitten

Palm Reader
(1898; apparently an uncropped version of the above painting;)
Elements: One Client, Chairs, Rag Rug, Parasol, Hat Box, Arched Fireplace, Yarn Balls, Two Kittens

The Bride and the Fortune Teller (1899; Osborne Company)

The Bride and the Fortune Teller (1899 Verso Text; Osborne Company, 254 Broadway, N.Y.)

The Fortune Teller (Palmistry)
(Undated; Oil on board, 10" x 14", Private collection, Washington, DC, Signed lower right: "Harry Roseland")

Elements: No-Purse, Bellows, One Client

The Palmist
(1900; 18" x 24" oil on canvas; signed and dated: "Harry Roseland / 1900"; sold in the 21st century with the spurious title "Good Karma")

The Colored Palmist
(1903) (from a thumbnail-sized print; i have been unable to locate a larger copy; Signed, titled, dated and inscribed "Painted to order for James G. Moulton, Chicago, ILL" on reverse, oil on canvas. 11 x 15 in.)
Elements: Red Tablecloth, One Client

Elements: Purse, Bellows, One Client, Straw Hat, Parasol, Knitting Equipment in Hat Box, Loose Yarn Balls, Rocking Chair, White Crocheted Shawl, Arched Fireplace, Rag Rug

Good Luck, Honey
(1906; Signed lower right: "(c) 1906 / Harry Roseland" and titled on verso; private collection)
Elements: Bellows, One Client, Straw Hat, Parasol, Knitting Equipment in Hat Box, Rocking Chair, Arched Fireplace, Rag Rug

A Bright Future
Elements: Sofa, Palmistry, Hat Box, Loose Ball of Yarn, Braided Rug, Purse, Parasol, No-Rug

A Voodoo Palmist
(1907;inscribed and dated on the reverse: "A Voodoo Palmist" / copyright 1907 By / Harry Roseland"; Oil on canvas 10 x 14 inches)
Elements: Chairs, Palmistry, Hat Box, Loose Ball of yarn, Braided Rug, Purse, Parasol

The Palmist (1909)

The Fortune Teller as Rootworker: Paintings by Harry Roseland

Mixing the Love Potion [Cropped]
(Undated; this image is a cropped version of the next picture)
Elements: Kitchen, Two Clients, Iron Cauldron, Parasol, Hat Box, Kitten, Saucer, No-Rug, Arched Fireplace

In this painting we see the reader brewing something in a pot -- but it is not food in the conventional sense and she is not a cook or Mammy. The title of the painting is "Mixing the Love Potion," and she is fulfilling the spiritual rootworker's role of preparing a magically active liquid or potion which the client will add to the food or drink of the man she wants, to trick him into loving her.

Mixing the Love Potion [Jigsaw Puzzle]
(Undated; this image is an uncropped circa 1934 jigsaw puzzle version of the print)
Elements: Kitchen, Two Clients, Iron Cauldron, Parasol, Hat Box, Kitten, Saucer, Rag Rug, Arched Fireplace

I have a copy of this as a framed full-sized print in my own collection, but i thought you would like to see how popular Harry Roseland's prints were, and their widespread use in commerce. Here we see "Mixing the Love Potion" used as the basis for a jigsaw puzzle! My grateful thanks to "Bob Armstrong's Old Jigsaw Puzzles" web site at http:// for this image. Bob has several Harry Roseland jigsaw puzzles in his collection. Here is what he says about this one: "Love Potion; [puzzle made] ca. 1934; 750 pieces, 18" H x 23" W; brand: Macy's; artist: Harry Roseland. Macy's puzzle sold through its department store in New York City in the 1930s. Plywood, interlocking, cut along color lines with 66 figure pieces, very challenging. Most likely made by Parker Brothers or Milton Bradley. Lovely curl knob cutting style displays well in this puzzle; scene appears frequently in wood puzzles of the first half of the 20th century; a/k/a "Mixing the Love Potion."

The Love Potion
Elements: Kitchen, One Client, Kitten, Prasol, Loose Ball of Yarn, Rag Rug, Arched Fireplace

In a setting similar to the above, the fortune teller prepares her love potion for one client.

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