Brian Williams: Tarot Tour Guide Extraordinaire by Arnell Ando

Where to begin when considering all that Brian Williams has contributed to the art and historical understanding of Tarot, not to mention what a hero on a personal level he is to Tarot students, such as myself. I’m certain I’m not sharing anything new when I mention Brian has given the Tarot world beautiful decks with brilliantly written accompanying books such as, my all time favorite, the PoMo Tarot, as well as the Renaissance Tarot, Minchiate Tarot, among other wonderful decks and books. But beyond this great contribution, which deserves its own contemplative review, Brian has played an important role in my Tarot studies and given me a deeper appreciation of the history of Tarot as well.

My husband Michael and I were fortunate enough to have gone on two of Brian's incredible Italy tours of Tarot art history, and we count these magical and wondrous adventures as in the top experiences of our lives thus far. The first trip we met up with Tarot luminaries and friends such as Sarah Ovenall and Georg Patterson, Alexandra and Ken Genetti, Bob and Gerry O'Neill, Charlotte Porter, Glenna ‘Pixie’ drop a few names. This Tarot tribe, led by our esteemed guide Brian Williams, toured the birthplace of Tarot, like no trip before or since in recorded history. First off, Brian secured for us a majestic ancient castle to dwell in when we weren’t out adventuring. We went to so many places and experienced so many incredible things with Brian, someone coined the phrase, ‘Brian’s breakneck tours’ and joked, ‘One more Cathedral to hit before we break for lunch.’ Lovely Pienza, and Siena, with the festive parades of Palio’s famed horse race, the enchanted Tarot Garden of Niki de St. Phalle, the spooky Garden of Monsters, and many glorious was an overwhelming experience and we did our best to keep up with Brian, knowing we would have time to reflect on it all in the years to come. A very important and personal highlight of this trip for Michael and I took place at our home away from home...the castle, towards the end of our stay. Brian Williams and Alexandra Genetti gave us great honor in being the High Priest and High Priestess for our hand fasting. Joined by all our Tarot family there, as the sun set on a Tuscany sky...well, it was the most memorable and special ceremony that we could have ever imagined for ourselves.

On Brian’s next tour of Italy, our friend Charlotte Porter was again amongst our ‘band of merry travelers’, as well as the Tarot Empress herself, Mary K. Greer, and many other lovely Tarot folk. On this trip Brian Williams awoke in me an even deeper appreciation of the depth and tapestry of Tarot history. And have I mentioned yet that Brian is utterly charming and humorous, matched only by his eloquent way with words, and a fascinating understanding of art? He brought history to life in the most vibrant way! We began this tour in Milano and soon met up with the great Tarot artist and publisher, Osvaldo Menegazzi at his impressive Tarot shop. We were like kids in a candy store, drooling over all the incredible Tarot decks, posters and hand crafted shadow boxes on display. Brian took us to the Renaissance fortress of the Castello Sforzesco, aka the Visconti Castle, where the oldest known Tarot deck was once discovered, discarded in an abandoned well. And by special invitation, we met with the distinguished Professor Milano, an expert on ancient card making and publishing, who gave us an informative presentation, displaying an amazing array of ancient cards all the while. We took a trip to the museum which now houses the oldest known Tarot deck, and saw many other great works as Brian painted a picture of Renaissance Italy, her art and influences as well as how the history of the Tarot tied in. We saw some incredible frescoes, including the recently restored, ‘Dance of Death’ in Clusone and were given a fascinating lecture on its Tarot relevance. Brian’s gang of Tarotists descending on the quaint little hillside Village of Clusone was such an occasion that we were interviewed and wrote up in the local paper and the Mayor came by to shake Brian’s hand. We visited so many Cathedrals and museums and architectural wonders that it was awe-inspiring. Bergamo, Asolo, Verona (yes, even the home of Shakespeare’s Juliet)...we were completely immersed in Renaissance art and culture. And the cherry on the cake was our last destination, the hauntingly beautiful city of Venice. Here we met with yet another amazing artist of printmaking and were privy to learn the techniques of a great art form. And then, Brian’s friends from the occult shop in Venice, the Temple of Isis, threw us a divine masquerade party... I could go on forever reminiscing about the incredible gift Brian has given all of us that were lucky enough to have made these tours with him to study firsthand the art and history of Tarot in the country of it’s founding. I’ve only touched on a few of the brighter highlights that come to mind. Brian Williams to me IS, as Diane Wilkes so perfectly expresses, The Renaissance Man of Tarot and I am forever indebted to him.

Essay © 2002 Arnell Ando
Collage © 2000 Arnell Ando, Alexandra Genetti, Gaelen Genetti, Glenna Gorlick, Bob O'Neill, Sarah Ovenall, Georg Patterson, Charlotte Porter. These collages, created from accumulated memories and souvenirs, are some of the Tarot cards made for Brian as a thank you gift from participants of the first Italian tour.