Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Apprenticed under: August "Cap" Coleman but also considered Charlie Wagner to be a mentor to him

Shops: Had shops in Tampa (1936), Biloxi, Mississippi (1950 - 1957) and in Columbus (1970 - 1980). Also worked with people such as: Ted and Bob Liberty in Boston (1930, 33, 34), Charlie Wagner in Bowery and also with Bill "Frisco Bill" Moore in Chicago (1931, 32). And most likely countles others.

This is the story of Leonard L. "Stoney" St. Clair and the story is just like any other story. Not better, but just as good.

Mister St. Clair was born 1912 in Bluefield, West Virginia. He was the oldest of the 8 children and might have been the most out going one of the lot. When he was 15 years old he got that wild hair up his keester and joined the sideshow in the Cole Brothers Circus as a sword swallower. In 1928, when the circus was in Norfolk, Virginia, he went downtown with his cousins and in there he saw a tattoo shop and guy tattooing an eagle on this fellas back. He looked at the eagle and knew that he could do a better job. Nothing special about that, but in that shop just happened to work arguably one of the greatest tattoo artists ever to grace the green earth, August “Cap” Coleman, who's flash designs are still the basis of numerous Old-School Tattoos. So Leonard had to step up and put his money where he's mouth was. Over the desk he saw some typing paper, took one and proceeded to draw an eagle. Then he showed the design to Cap. The man was impressed and asked how did he learn to draw like that? Leonard said he just picked it up along the way (he had learned to draw in children's hospital). Well, he shoot the shit with Coleman for a while and then he left back with his cousins.

Next day he was back in the shop and Cap asked if he ever thought about tattooing? Leonard said No, I could never do that. I don't think I'd ever like tattooing. But there was something that kept pulling Leonard back to the shop. Maybe it was the fact that in those days tattoo studios in towns could be counted with one hand and sometimes not a finger had to be risen. They had magic. So, Leonard kept coming back to the shop and on the fourth day old man Coleman gave him two machines and some colors. Well, there was only two colors: red and black, but that’s about all you need. Cap also showed him how to use the machines, told him to practice on his friends and if he runs out living skin, he can practice on a grapefruit. And if he ever would get stuck and didn't know what to do he should write him. Leonard said OK and went on his way holding his future in his hands.

So, Leonard started tattooing and people didn't even care if he wasn't that good at first because they had some terrible work already, mostly hand poked stuff. (After all, tattoo machine was invented only 37 years earlier and many of the people wearing tattoos could be over 50 and gotten them in their teens) But Leonard being the stand up person he is always tried to fix his mistakes. It takes a lot of balls to admit when you are wrong. Even more to fix the mistakes. And like all tattoo artists he too practiced on himself and his first tattoos were stars on the back of his hands, short version (Leo) of his real name in the inside of his lover lip and stars inside his eyelids. Why these spots you ask? Well, according to him they were easier to tattoo because they didn't sweat! Also he did some real fishy experimenting when he tattooed his name on a goldfish. When it was still alive. Luckily the fucker lived on for a month, swam in the fish bowl with Leo written on its side.

The name Stoney was bestowed upon Leonard because of tattoo related “issues”. He wouldn't give credit for two forty milers (slang for people who start in the carny biz but leave as soon as they are 49 miles from home because they get home sick) so they said that don't get tattooed by him, his stoned all the time! Well, Stoney liked to booze it up and go to whore houses to relieve some pressure, but when it came to tattooing he was all business.

Stoney got his first real chance when the tattooer in the circus got drunk (he was drunk all the time but that’s besides the point) and got into a fight. Boss told Leonard. “Kid, get up on that platform. I know you've been sneaking around and tattooing. Put on names, hearts, whatever you think you can do, and I'll run an ad in the Billboard (that's were all the open jobs for the circi and carny were at). I'll have another tattooist in here next week.” Leonard started tattooing and the ad was never posted. He was just 16 years old.

What followed is years and years of traveling around and tattooing in places such as Little Rock, Miami, Hopkinsville. Grayson, Havana, Cuba, Puerto Rico and Memphis Tennessee. He also tattooed with Ted and Bob Liberty in 1930, 33, 34 in the city of Boston. With Charlie Wagner in the Bowery who Stoney considered to be his second mentor in addition to Coleman. Then in Chicago with Frisco Bill Moore in 31 and 32. Even though he liked Bill he didn't like tattooing in there because you had to work too cheap and had a lot of competition who talked against others.

He opened his first steady tattoo shop in Tampa in 1936. And it was in Biloxi, Mississippi, where he was from 1950 to 1957. Last shop that he opened in 1970 was located in Columbus.

In those days the atmosphere in tattoo shops was raw and uncompromising. Not like today when the customer expects that they are always right, no matter what. You had to be harsh in words. Like one time few people, with no apparent interest to get tattooed arrived in the shop. One of them asked Stoney if he gives like a shot of liqueur for clients before tattooing them. Stoney replied No, I hit them over the head with a hammer! Well, that didn't phase him and he went back to look at the designs. 20 minutes later his friend walked up to the counter and asked Stoney “Could you explain the sensation, how it feels to get tattooed?” Stoney replied Did you ever jerk off with a handful of barbed wire? And off they went... If they didn't, well, he always had his gun next to him, hidden, but ready to go. Then the fuckers who didn't listen to words certainly left! But he didn't want to intimidate people and that's why his shop was more like someone's home and people were drinking coffee, eating sandwiches, swapping stories and telling jokes. He had learned that if you treat people with respect they will treat you right back. His life would have been much harder if he didn't.

You see, Stoney tattooed out of a wheelchair, a struggle-buggy as he called it. He had been in that chair for all his life. In 1916 when Stoney was four years old, his tonsils burst and he contracted rheumatoid arthritis. He learned to draw while being treated in Johns Hopkins Hospital for two years. He couldn't open his hand much but could stick a pen between his two fingers. He always said that he never felt like a “cripple” and never used the word “freak”. Because for him, it wasn't the sideshow where he used to work that exploited the disabled and “deformed”, it was the society at large – the general public. But all this pain that he had didn't stop him from being happy. Actually, all he probably did was smile, shoot the shit and tattoo like the best of them. And he was always wearing nice clothes such as pearl snap button shirts and ties. Just like the old timers many times did. They took pride in their profession and so did Stoney. A sign in his shop stated the following;

I, Leonard 'Stoney' St. Clair, am in the business of rendering a service to the community for the small group of people who choose to have their bodies decorated in some way or another. I choose to pursue my profession with intelligence and skill, wishing not to offend anyone, but instead, with my love of mankind, to do what good I can before I die

Signed -Leonard L. Stoney St. Clair, Tattooist of the Old School since 1928-

He died peacefully in his sleep on December 3, 1980, never breaking that promise.

Thursday, June 4, 2009


Apprenticed under: Ed Hardy

Shops: Owns and operates Tattoo Archive in Winston-Salem, North Carolina which was opened originally in California 1984. Also worked in places such as: Tattoo City, Smilin Buddah Tattoo, Swallow, Snow and Professor Baldwin Tattoo Shop and also with Dean Dennis in SF who later gave his shop to Henry Goldfield.

The ones who choose to dedicate their lives for educating us about the lives that others have lived, are usually the ones who don't get the much needed praise. This electrical writing, as all the others ones I do, is done that in mind. May we never forget the ones who help us remember. Here is the tale of the pitch black Tattoologist of 1891, mister C.W. Eldridge.

Chuck started his tattooing initiation in great hands. He got marked many times by lord Ed Hardy in the spawn of 4 years and after he had gotten deep enough in the pitch black blood cult, he got offered an apprenticeship by Hardy in 1978. At that time Bob Roberts and the late Jamie Summers were also working at Tattoo City. So the company he had from early on was world class. Scary even. Good people in other words. Unfortunately, that very year Chuck got his apprenticeship Tattoo City burned down. The fire was caused by some maniac who was trying to kill his girlfriend in the upstairs flea bag hotel. Forces were against the young seeker. But you cant kill the will of those who control the dead. A journey had to be taken. Good thing Chuck had already been 4 years in the navy and traveled all over the world, visiting those faraway corners, exploring, thinking... So traveling wasn't nothing new to him. He decided to head to the land of permafrost, Canada, where he worked with Paul Jeffries in Smilin Buddah Tattoo, but said that I was not cutting the mustard. It was good experience though and Paul and I remained good friends”. Powerful ally to have. He also did a short stint with Sailor Jerry Swallow in Swallow, Snow and Professor Baldwin Tattoo Shop, where he also must have heard about the old rites and meanings.

Then Chuck headed back to good ol' SF.

In there he started working with Dean Dennis in a shop that was located in a old butchers shop and in there they tattooed inside old meat locker. Amongst the spirits of once there stored animal kin. When Dean found religion (the OTHER one) he gave the shop to Henry Goldfield. Chuck also decided to take a big step in his own path. Berkley called. Thus was the first steps of becoming Tattoologist taken.

Tattoo Archive was summoned to existence in the years between 1980-84 and in 1985 Chuck began conjuring full time in the Berkley location. That is when he started actively resiting the secret tales of tattoo history "by writing articles for many U.S. and overseas publications, including National Tattoo Association, Skin & Ink Magazine, and Tattoo Artist Magazine. Tattoo Archive is one of the corner stones of tattooing world. For me it holds the same magical aura as Ed Hardy's Tattoo City, Freddy Corbin's Temple Tattoo, Grime's Skull & Sword and many other cult places.

Its not an overstatement when I say that what Chuck has done with Tattoo Archive is first creating and then upholding the collective memory of tattooing. If you are dying to see some work done, lets say, by Cliff Raven, you can go see Chuck and he will most likely help you out, as long as you are worthy by conducting yourself in manner suited to human. Or maybe you want to study old flash, those maps that will lead you to feel the ways of yesteryear people, created by voices such as: Cap Coleman, Joe Lieber or maybe George Burchett. If that is your desire, then go see Chuck in Tattoo Archive. He will put the spell on you. He is one of the few people who can provide information about tattooers that just cant be found electrically or even from old ancient books. With out him it all might very well be lost in the air as soon as it left the lips of old timers shooting the shit.

But as the story usually goes, behind every great man (men) there is a great woman. The lady who will bless as with knowledge if we choose to acquire it. Harriet, the book mistress (www.bookmistress.net). The shop (in same place as Tattoo Archive) where she resides is filled with tales from the noble ones still with us and also true myths of the olden timers, who are the roots of our saga. If we read, we will learn. And then we will respect even more. Mistress Harriet, you are also saluted.

As it is clear that history is about keeping the tales alive, it is only fitting that in 1993 Chuck, along with Alan Govenar, D. E. Hardy, and Henk Schiffmacher, formed a nonprofit corporation, The Paul Rogers Tattoo Research Center ("PRTRC"). It might be that the Tattoo Archive wouldn't even exist in the magnitude it does now, if the late and great Paul Rogers wouldn't have bestowed his extensive tattoo collection to Chuck in 1990 when he passed away. Because mister Rogers was from North Carolina, Chuck decided to relocate Tattoo Archive to NC (somewhere around 2007) to birthplace of arguably the greatest tattoo machine builder there ever has been. Chuck gave back what he had received. And he just keep on giving, day after day, moonlight after moonlight.

So this blog post is for you Chuck (and Harriet). May we all be like you. Deathless as the pitch black year of 1891. Forever I will follow

Hail and Metta

Sunday, April 5, 2009


Apprenticed under:
Klem, but Ross Vinstein, Dan Wysuph, Adam Barton and Edu Cerro have been a influence

Shops: True Art Tattoo as the shop guy and after that tattooer in Samuel O'Reilly's Tattoo Parlour

This is a blog post about Jason Anderson. A tattoo artists from Santa Cruz who started tattooing in March 2007, after a two year apprenticeship.

In truth, Jason's tattoo initiation started well before he knew he was going to start tattooing. Really big turning point was when Jason was about 20 and his friend Ross Vinstein, who was apprenticing under
Greg James at Sunset Strip Tattoo, instilled him the importance of an apprenticeship and discouraged him from building a crappy machine and butchering his friends. So, Jason waited and respected his friends insight. And like so many artist today he got tattooed like crazy. At True Art tattoo in Santa Cruz is where he met Klem and Dan Wysuph. Jason and the guys vibed really well together and had a lot in common. But Jason didn't want to be "that guy", so he didn't mention that he wanted to tattoo. He just kicked back, hang around and got even more tattoos. After kicking it old school, one day he got a call from Dan. Dan was about to start tattooing and they needed someone reliable to replace him as the shop guy, and that someone had to love tattooing and be a great all around guy. Que Jason Anderson.

Motherfucker, you just got chosen!

He started off easy, working few days a week, making needles and answering the phones. After 5-6 months into it he started as full time shop guy. This meant making even more needles in a busy as fuck street/custom shop (that's a lot of fucking needles!), stocking stations, cleaning the place up all the time and just being the scapegoat when shit went gore. Like when this guy came in who had obvious health problems. He went to the bathroom for 30 minutes. While in there, he shat himself and managed to get the shit all over the walls, the sink, fucking everywhere. Again; Que Jason Anderson. Being "in the shit" had a a new meaning. Literally. But still, after all this, shit, Jason was happy as fuck being in a great shop where everyone had his back and gave him a opportunity to see what tattooing is all about. Hes sting as the shop guy lasted for 2½ years and the possibility of becoming a tattoo artist arise when Professor Klem decided to look for a new shop.

Klem had a idea of opening up a new shop so he started to look around for a good spot for it. He decided to open it up at Westside of Santa Cruz because there wasn't any other tattoo shops there and he didn't want to step on any ones toes. Old-School, you know. The shop was named Samuel O'Reilly's Tattoo Parlour. Mister O'Reilly is the one who patented the first tattoo machine in the year 1891. (Which is the reason my blog has 1891 in its title) The shop was set up in a old two bedroom Craftmen style house from 1920s-30's, which used to be a eye doctors office. Jason was nervous about asking for the apprenticeship, so he talked to his friend Dan (Wysuph) first, who had just some time ago finished his apprenticeship (Dan started tattooing in March 6 in year 2004). Dan basically just said Just ask him you asshole! So he did. At the time Klem had been tattooing nearly 12 years and haven't even considered having a apprentice. But luckily, Jason had what it took.

Jason started to brake down and set up stations for Klem (Dan started in O'Reilly after it had been open about for a year), running his schedule and waiting list. Taking all the notes and tracing the designs for all of his appointments. Then he started painting his own flash sheets in watercolor and of course drawing in abundance. And the paintings and drawings had to be something that Jason really put his time into, because there was weekly critique nights where Klem and Dan along with Adam Barton and Edu Cerro (who both had started to work at the shop) all just went trough everything Jason had done that week, and took them apart both in good and bad. In-return Jason would critique their drawings and tattoos, which must have been scary as fuck, but it did teach him how to deal with customers tattoo requests because he analytically had to strip down everything and think what would work and what wouldn't. Training his mind for the blood war.

I have been following Jason's progress as an artists for a good while now. Couple of years almost. I loved the flash he did and was cool to see him post his first tattoos in myspace. I loved how it was evident that he also loved the history of tattooing. You know the almost mythical feeling that you have about some tattooers? Like they would be reliving the history right the in front of us. Jason has that spark. So, a while back I decided to ask him to do a interview with me. The answer he gave me solidified the feeling I had. He said I don't think I'm ready for something like that at this point. I don't know what you think, but in my mind that is like the golden ticket to becoming respected and great artists at some point.

What I have read other artists say about the legendary Scott Sylvia seem to fit Jason too. Jason has a humble approach to tattooing and the role he plays in it. It all comes down to hard work and dedication. Long nights just drawing and getting better. Focusing and doing research. Studying. Listening to your mentors and other artists. Compromising and non-compromising. Painting, drawing and eventually tattooing your ass off. Jason's first tattoo was done on Klem. A penguin drinking gin and smoking. A old flash poster from Amsterdam. And he also tattooed Dan that beautiful day of March 6, in the year 2007. Same day that Dan had started tattooing, just 3 years earlier. The circle was complete but the path had just begun. Jason knew he was part of the blood cult. And you don't break the oath. Pitch Black 1891. In for life.

And so we bleed.

Saturday, March 7, 2009


Apprenticed under: Charlie Snow, but people such as Sailor Joe Simmons, Kazuo Oguri a.k.a Horihide of Gifu, Mitsuaki Ohwada a.k.a Horikin of Yokahama, Hiroshi Sakamoto, Paul Rogers, Cliff Raven, Tatts Tommy, August "Cap" Coleman, Huck Spaulding, "Brooklyn" Joe Lieber and Zeke Owen (to name a few) have been a influence, or a friend to him over the years.

Shops: 1960 Swallow, Snow and Professor Baldwin Tattoo Shop which dates back to 1890. 2008 Sailor Jerry Swallow’s Olde Tyme Tattoo in Victoria BC, Canada (Link 1, Link 2)

To start this off. I know some of you will confuse Sailor Jerry Swallow to Sailor Jerry Collins. So here are the facts: Sailor Jerry Swallow is a Canadian Tattooer and still very much alive. Sailor Jerry Collins died in 1973 (R.I.P). Sailor Jerry Swallow DID NOT steal the name Sailor Jerry from Sailor Jerry Collins. Even if some people still insist on that. He got the nickname Sailor when he's dad took him down the waterfront to see USN aircraft carriers. He was standing around USS Essex and a sailor came by. Piss drunk. Tanked like a motherfucker. The sailor took off his hat, put it on Jerry's head, gave him a salute, and said something like You’re a real sailor now!. And that was that. After that he was the king shit for a while. And then he got into tattooing...

Jerry's start in tattooing was an early one. He helped Sailor Joe Simmons (who was in his 80’s and half blind), by mixing his red ink, drawing pictures for him, telling him if his needles were hooked or not. He was still only 12-13, back in late 1950’s. But it never did amount to nothing more. Charlie Snow took an interest in Jerry, so he made him draw his ass off and sweep the floors. Normal shit in other words. Jerry started tattooing under his guidance at May 25 in 1960, when he was just 15 years old. That is where Jerry learned to love and respect the art of tattooing. In a shop that was the oldest tattoo shop in Canada, dating back to 1890. The roots were deep. He learned the immense importance of flash art. If you were a tattooer, you did flash. And still, after close to 49 years of tattooing he is still doing it. It is safe to say that many classic American tattoo designs that you see today, be it modified or originals, wouldn't even be around with out people like Sailor Jerry Swallow. A good guide for all this is a book by Jerry titled Traditional American Tattoo Design. Here is what the esteemed C.W. Eldridge writes in his book shop's website (www.bookmistress.com)

"Sailor Jerry Swallow does a great job of crediting the source of these designs and giving the artists of the past their due! Military, religious, figural, animal, and nature themes are displayed among the many hundred designs. Changes in tattoo art over the years is shown as well as the trend today to return to earlier designs. This book will be an endless source of inspiration for those who are passionate about tattoo art."

Needles to say, it is a must have.

The importance of the work done by Jerry for American tattooing alone would be a huge feat. But he has also defined Canadian, and most likely to some extent American tattoo culture in ways that only few have.

In the 1960's you didn't have a Internet, so many times you kept in touch with other tattooers via snail mail. Jerry had correspondence with Japanese master tattoo artists such as Mitsuaki Ohwada of Yokahama, Kazuo Oguri and Hiroshi Sakamoto. They exchanged letters which contained drawings that Jerry did of traditional Japanese subjects which were critiqued and corrected by the masters. He studied the world of Horimono (japanese tattooing) trough out the 60's and brought it to Canada in the early 70's. After he had proved to always honour and respect the traditions of Japanese tattooing, he received the title Hori (Hori means literally "carve" and dates back to Japanese artists who did woodblock prints, also know as Ukiyo-e) in 1979. He could choose to be named after Horihide (Kazuo Oguri) or to be called Horiryu, which means dragon. He chose to be called Horiyu. And so now he was Horishi; tattooist worthy of tattooing traditional Japanese motifs. John "The Dutchman" credits Jerry for introducing Japanese tattooing to tattoo artists in Canada.

Jerry's influence is evident in many of the names I mentioned earlier. Because of his love for tattooing, it is much easier for us to know those artists that have defined what western tattooing is. Names like "Brooklyn" Joe Lieber, August “Cap” Coleman, Paul Rogers, Zeke Owen. And even people such as Ed Hardy, Paul Jeffries, Bob Roberts and Horiyoshi III can give a collective nod towards Jerry for always staying true to the spirit of tattooing. Never harming it. Being true. True tattoo heroes aren't just the ones that everyone know about. There are some who have spend all their years in silence, just grinding the fuck on. Just keeping that spark alive. Keeping us alive. Because the flash and art that you see in some shops, might be the only thing that is left from the ones who came before. And in these days I cant help to think that it means so much for to have something so rich in meaning. There is real soul buried in those sheets and designs. They have real living faces behind them. And when it has taken someone a life time to keep it alive and dragg it back to the modern world, intact and pure while still bleeding that pitch black history, I can only say; Mister Sailor Jerry Swallow, you have my eternal respect.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


Apprenticed under:
Phil Sparrow, but also cites people such as Bert Grimm, Zeke Owen, Sailor Jerry, Don Nolan, Tom Yeomans, Pinky Yun and Horihide as people who took him under their wings.

Shops: 1972 (?) Ichiban Tattoo in Canada, under the alias Talbot. 1974, Realistic Tattoo in San Fransisco. Tattoo City in San Fransisco, in three different occasions. Opened in 1977 and destroyed by fire in 1978. Second time in 1991 do to the growing demand for tattoos. And finally larger and improved version of Tattoo City opened in 1999.

It is only fitting that I start my tattoo history blog by introducing you the one and only Don Ed Hardy. I consider him to be the sole reason I am even writing about tattooing all together and you reading about it. Because in short: Ed Hardy IS modern tattooing. Here are just a few moments in his life that defined the tattoo culture for the future.

In 1974 he opened the first private, appointment only tattoo shop in the West, called Realistic Tattoo, which started operating in San Fransisco. In Japan tattoo studios were located behind closed doors and hus hus connections, so this wasn't anything new. But unlike in Japan, he made them more open to general public. By doing so he expanded the basic formula of American styled tattoos by starting to do custom tattooing, and also preserved the history by showing people that they in fact were more than just pictures in the wall. Before that it was the street shops that ruled. What you see is what we got! And if you didn't like it, well, too bad motherfucker... (reaches for the HAMMA) I think that's your teeth in the corner there. This attitude was the by product of tattoo shops being in the worst areas in the neighborhood. Mister Hardy changed all this with out loosing none of the integrity of the tattoo designs or the aura of tattoo shops.

In 1982, together with
Leo Zulueta, mister Hardy started publishing a magazine/book called TattooTime which probably made couple of hundred, or even more, young boys (and girls) want to start tattooing. In 1985 he was asked to put together international tattoo exhibit in Rome, Italy. It showcased tattooing being done, art displays - the works. During the one month it was open, it was seen by 40 000 people. At that time you could count the tattoo shops that operated in the whole country by one hand. Two years from that, they were having their own conventions in Italy. What better time for the exhibition to happen than in the 1980's! I can only imagine what type of a boost, shock, punk rock thing it was to see these designs and art that was so powerful, classy and filled with heritage, compared to the stuff that was the norm back then. I take eagles over unicorns any day.

If that isn't enough, he must be respected for being one of the key figures if not THE figure (after Sailor Jerry Collins), in bringing Japanese tattooing to America. If you love Kore Flatmo, Dana Helmuth, Mike Rubendall, Shinji, Dave Fox, Horiyoshi III, Horitaka, who ever, give at least a nod to mister Hardy. Also his mix between Americana and Japanese tattooing was and is highly influential and genre defining. Of course, Sailor Jerry Collins did it before and it was his shop where the first "mini convention" with Hori-Hide was held where mister Hardy saw what tattooing really could become. The dream that Sailor Jerry had, beating the Japanese in their own game, did perhaps happen in a way when mister Hardy continued the legacy, perfecting the craft and that unique blend of those two great styles of tattooing. But unfortunately, Jerry didn't really get to enjoy the "victory", so it was up to Ed (and rest of his peers) the carry the torch and unify the two styles to a perfect harmony. And he still carries the torch with honor and respect.

On top of all this he still continues to publish great books about tattooing and its history and gives lectures about the history of tattooing in various universities. His impact to tattooing, and the expansion of the craft to other countries and cultures, is god like.
He hasn't just earned the respect of everyone in tattooing, be it artists or customers, he is the reason we can even show it.