Dream Sequence

With the Emergence Oracle Deck, artist Joanna Read transforms paintings into a spiritual journey


At first, Joanna Read had modest aspirations for her Oracle Deck. “I thought maybe I’d just print 10 copies at Staples,” she remembers. “But it took on a consciousness of its own. So I went all out.”

The Emergence Oracle Deck has been a kind of spiritual apogee for Read, an artist and wellness consultant based in East Providence. Like a tarot deck, the cards bear symbolic images, which guide the user through soul-searching exercises. Unlike the 78-card tarot, Emergence contains 63 cards, which depict a wide range of living organisms, mythic creatures, and natural artifacts. There’s also no established protocol for using the Oracle Deck.

“I’ve laid out a few suggestions,” says Read. “The ultimate invitation is for these suggestions to be starting points. Go ahead and make your own! Let it be fun!”

Read grew up on a bucolic farm in Essex, Massachusetts, where she interacted daily with her family’s animals, such as peacocks and donkeys. She loved drawing and journaling, and her natural creativity led to a BFA in studio arts at UMASS Amherst. She interned at a gallery in Rockport and fell in love with silk painting, which she regularly practiced for more than 10 years. “It was more craft to me than fine art,” she says.

Since then, there have been many chapters to Read’s life: She served as a publicist for the Rockport Art Association. She worked as a membership assistant for the Providence Children’s Museum. She was a program coordinator for the Rhode Island Foundation. She managed a coworking space. She learned to rock climb and now teaches others to ascend cliffs. She’s been a prolific yoga instructor since 2016.

But through it all, Read continued to paint, and her paintings gradually took on personal significance. She created a multi-hued phoenix flying overhead. During COVID, she painted a sea turtle encircled by schools of fish, then an owl, a bull, and a photorealistic hawk. Each image was saturated in color and texture, even as she expanded to mandalas, landscapes, and cosmic abstractions.

“I wanted to get back to my time in art school,” she says. “I had no idea how much I was doing things for approval. Now I was making symbols that people could relate to on a transpersonal level.”

When Read started her Kickstarter campaign, it became clear just how many people related to her Emergence project. She busted her $7,000 fundraising goal, for a total of $8,772. Now she had the capital to print and package the Oracle Deck on a large scale.

Read received her shipment of printed decks in mid-December, which she now vends from her longstanding Etsy shop as well as in local stores. Read won’t prescribe meaning to her icons; it’s up to the user to decipher the three mountain cards, the four cards of butterflies pushing out of their chrysalises, or the 26 cards showing birds in flight. Cosmology aside, Emergence is like a portable art portfolio, showcasing the full breadth of Read’s vision.

“The Oracle Deck was a reawakening for me,” says Read. “It’s like you marry different parts of your brain. I just knew that there was something ready to emerge.” Learn more at JoannaRead.com



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