Elizabeth Stephenson creates playing cards featuring gay icons 

In the Cards

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We live in a time when there's an app for just about everything and the term "face time" has taken on a whole new meaning. Though it certainly makes life easier in many regards — you can check your bank statements while simultaneously stalking anyone and everyone on Facebook and watching the latest episode of The Daily Show on Hulu — the computer age has also taken some of the novelty out of formerly social activities, like playing cards or chess. We no longer need a friend or two to play a game — we merely sit at our laptops and play (and sometimes rage) against a machine. Local artist Elizabeth Stephenson hopes to change that.

"I want to bring people back together over something as small as playing a game of cards," she says. The 24-year-old printmaker spent the past six months laboring over her latest art project, a deck of playing cards entitled "Hag Pack." It includes 58 hand-carved cards featuring portraits of female pop-culture icons who have supported the LGBT community over the past several decades, including Judy Garland, Cher, Oprah, and Lady Gaga. "They're all women that gave love, and also women who loved gays," Stephenson says. "They're people who have a piece of gay history attached to them or have a profound influence on drag culture."

A graduate of the College of Charleston, Stephenson recently relocated back to the Lowcountry from New York City, where she was working in public relations. "As great as New York was, the pace of it was not conducive to me being an artist," she says. "I never had time to do my own work." She now works at CofC's Jewish Studies Center and as a print technician in the studio art department, and is set to start teaching printmaking classes in August.

Stephenson's return to Charleston has granted her enough time to focus on her art. She drew inspiration for her deck of cards from the Japanese woodcuts of the late 1700s. There was a resurgence of the woodcuts in the 1950s in post-WWII America, and Stephenson's great-grandmother had many of them. "Back when they were made, they were not considered high art and were very affordable. They were almost treated like newspapers — people would wrap their china in them," Stephenson says.

She decided to make a deck of cards utilizing some of the same techniques. Like the woodcuts, Stephenson's cards were created on white paper and feature a gray, bright red, black, and fleshy pink color scheme. "In the Japanese woodcuts, they kept the faces white in the portraits they had — there was no skin tone — which I tried to imitate as well," she says.

"First I had to decide on who I wanted to be in the deck. I knew I wanted it to be portraits," Stephenson says. "I thought that it would be neat to do portraiture that's not necessarily a gay person but that is really iconic to gays." She made an effort to incorporate the hearts, clubs, diamonds, and spades within the cards in a way that would not detract from the portraits, but would be visible enough to play with. "You can still play with them as you would with normal cards," Stephenson says.

For her next project, Stephenson will create a book that solely features images, in addition to designing a deck of tarot cards. "It will be an even bigger project since there will be more cards involved," she says. "Hopefully, the next one will be even better — I've learned a lot from this project."

Stephenson's Hag Pack is available at etsy.com/shop/hagpack.


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