Pamela Colman Smith’s death certificate identified her as a “spinster of independent means.” Like many American Modernists, the artist, known to friends as Pixie, was fascinated by the mystique of the environment, and convinced Alfred Stieglitz to show her paintings in his photography gallery. Creator of the most ubiquitous iteration of tarot cards, the plaid boxed Rider-Waite set, she characterized the experimental spirit of fellow artists, enthusiastically walking right into the Mystic. The Jamaican painter, one of 45 artists, many previously overlooked, is among names like Georgia O’Keefe and Marsden Hartley, whose works now appear at the Whitney Museum in At the Dawn of a New Age: Early Twentieth-Century American Modernism.

That the “spinster” Pixie took part in a movement that seeks expression of identity in the throws of rapidly changing technology and progress, speaks to a spirit of progress. These artists, grounded in European tradition, broke new ground by embracing new modes of perception, discovering African and Oceanic art, adapting themselves in abstract styles that established an American expression. Aaron Douglas emerged from the Harlem Renaissance to create evocative graphic silhouettes like his suite of Emperor Jones woodcuts. Hawaii’s first artist of international renown, printer and painter Isai Doi presents another landscape form of his linocut Moonlight. Included are treasures from the Whitney’s own collection, providing a chance to meet the new kids and revisit old friends, who always offer fresh insight. —Gwynned Vitello