One of many images at Tattoo City, San Francisco, California. Taken by author.

Sorry for the silence, folks; it has been a rough time for me outside the blogosphere, and this project has unfortunately suffered as a result. However, I am back, and will be filling in some gaps from the blog entry that never was (#5: Pulling it All Together), and of course will be primarily addressing #6: The Exhibition.

Since my last post, I had a little chat with second generation tattoo artist Doug Hardy at his shop, Tattoo City, in San Francisco. Thanks to Doug’s vast knowledge on tattoo history, I have discovered that the context of tattooing here in the San Francisco actually spans further than the military heyday of the mid-nineteenth century. He explains that, since San Francisco has always been a liberal-minded city, tattoos were accepted as forms of art and individual expression. But the art’s popularity skyrocketed when “Janis Joplin got a tattoo at Lyle [Tuttle]’s shop; that exploded tattooing toward the hippie scene; a lot of women also got tattoos at that point. My father [Ed Hardy] opened up America’s first custom-only shop here in 1974, Realistic Tattoo, and that really expanded from tattoo shops with just flash designs on the walls to shops going full-custom. Because it was a Bohemian area, people were really open-minded to [custom tattoos] and the push kept going.”[1] Furthermore, art critic Thomas Albright explains, “Hippie visual expression was frequently tribal in the strictest sense of the word. Much of it was lavished on personal adornment — costumes, jewelry, bells. An overlay of psychedelic decoration worked to transform mass-produced utilitarian objects — automobiles, vans, windows, walls — into artifacts that thereby became identified with the subculture.”[2] There was a lot of customization and individualization in terms of self-expression during this period, which allowed for tattooing and the hippie subculture to go hand-in-hand.

Although the art of tattooing is centuries old, such customization and individualization of tattooing was really born here in the San Francisco Bay Area. Had it not been for the millions of sailors and immigrants and artists passing through, the diverse culture here would not thrive. And had it not been for the liberal thinking, and the practices in free speech and self-expression, tattoos would not have been as embraced as they were nor would they evolve into what they are today.

Such diversity, expression, creativity, and celebration of our ideas and differences could only be born here in the Bay Area. All manners of people have come here to the Bay Area and left their mark on it — some came and went, others called this place home. I asked Doug about what he finds significant or meaningful about tattoos: “Everyone keeps saying how tattoos are ‘forever,’ but that’s not true — they’re not forever; when we die, they go with us. So, it’s this strange, mysterious art that is very transitory; it just goes away. I kind of like that.”[3] Although our tattoos — let alone our earthly presence — are by no means permanent, the art and ideas we produce in our lifetimes and share with one another may stand the test of time. Furthermore, by expressing ourselves through our tattoos as we see fit, we are — like our Costanoan neighbors of yore — celebrating the meaningful events in our lives by recording them symbolically on our bodies; each one is a badge of honor.

At the end of the interview, Doug Hardy reminds me that the San Francisco Bay Area is the tattoo mecca, and then some: “Remember that this is where a bomb went off and it kept going. There is a huge creative influence that started here and really spread throughout the world.”[4] I do not see any signs of its momentum slowing down.

Even for an amateur local historian like myself, I would like to do my part in promoting and preserving local history (tattoo-related and otherwise) for future generations. This class and blog is a practice in historiography and finding new ways to present our local history to the public. Presenting our research and ideas via the internet is very accessible, but unfortunately also intangible. On the other end of the spectrum, we have the more traditional form of presenting public history: the museum. While I personally love visiting museums, they are not always accessible to the public. Some do not have the financial means to visit the museum, others do not even know such places exist in their communities! Assuming I have all the resources I need at my disposal, I would like to create an exhibit that is accessible both physically and visually — just like tattoos themselves.

One part of the exhibit will be held at the museum, where there would be photographs, collected flash designs, books, old and new tattoo guns — all the obligatory dusty (but still fascinating) tattoo artifacts. However, like at the Oakland Museum of California, I would like to organize each era of tattoo history accordingly. One room would be dedicated to the Costanoan rituals of tattooing, what they used, and the types of rites of passage that their tattoos celebrated. Another room would focus on the population booms of the mid-nineteenth century, the wartime efforts, and all the different types of people that came here to the Bay Area, as well as what tattoo styles were popular at that time. There would be a room for each era, in a different theme, serving as historical context to the evolution of tattoos and tattoo history. These “sub-exhibits” would be not just a visual experience, but an audio experience as well, with music and interviews and newscasts available for listening. At the end, visitors can enter a booth with a video camera and microphone and answer basic questions, such as “What was your first tattoo and why did you get it?” and “What do tattoos mean to you?” Visitors could also of course leave their impressions and feedback to benefit the exhibit in the long run. But that is not the whole exhibit!

 

Five years ago, the Asian Art Museum had an exhibit on traditional Japanese tattooing — both the style and the traditional, non-electric form for injecting ink into the skin, called tebori.[5] The exhibit featured local tattoo artists as well as noteworthy and revered tattoo artists from Japan. There were live models displaying full Japanese-style body-suits, with more tattoo artists tattooing on the spot. I appreciate how the Asian Art Museum has brought not just the art of tattooing but also its process to the public eye; one no longer has to receive a tattoo (or accompany someone receiving a tattoo) in order to observe its painstaking, intricate, bloody, and intimate process.

However, as I mentioned earlier, even a museum can only attract so many visitors. Rather than holding the exhibit solely in the museum, I would like part of the exhibit to be a guided walking/bus tour of various tattoo studios in San Francisco. The bus — an open-top, so that visitors can enjoy the sounds, sights, and smells of The City by the Bay — would deliver visitors to studios such as:

  • Tattoo City in North Beach, not just for its historical importance, but also Doug Hardy’s and Mary Joy’s modern take on traditional Americana tattooing, and Kahlil Rintye’s grandiose Japanese-style body-suits.
  • Everlasting Tattoo in Alamo Square, for the larger-scale versions of traditional pieces like the one your grandfather got during the war.
  • Idle Hand in the Lower Haight District, for beautiful black-and-grey portraits by Holly Ellis, the currently-on-trend black-and-grey dotwork by Erik Jacobsen, or a traditional rosy-cheeked gypsy by Jason Donahue.
  • 2Spirit Tattoo in SoMa, for amazing blackwork by Roxx, who pays homage to the styles, symmetry, and aesthetic harmony of the tribal tattoo masters of Polynesia and Southeast Asia.
  • Seventh Son Tattoo in SoMa, for their mastery in each and every style of tattooing imaginable.
  • Skull & Sword in the Mission District, for Grime’s and Henry Lewis’ modern- and street-art approaches to tattooing.

Passersby are free to jump on the bus and join in on the tour if they please. There would be guided walking tours associated with each of these neighborhoods. Guests are of course free to visit the tattoo shops and watch these masters at work, but part of the tour also consists of exploring the neighborhood and getting a feel for this one microcosm of San Francisco. It would connect the artists and their art with the surrounding environment, as one tends to inspire the other and vice versa. The individual and the community is a symbiotic relationship, and art is one of the many creations borne of that relationship. As a result, tattoos gather some influence from what their bearers find inspirational, which of course varies from person to person, city to city. However, as author Joshua Mohr explains, “there’s one commonality among those with tattoos: At the time we sat in the shop—the needle buzzing, music blaring, the artist wiping blood from our skin—whatever we were having engraved was important. It needed to be documented, commemorated; we felt driven to share it with total strangers. It might have ultimately been of fleeting importance, but right then, it carried significant weight.”[6]

Ultimately, art should be accessible to the public, for its value is not measured in dollars, but how many lives it can touch. Furthermore, my purpose in exploring local tattoo history is to implore my readers to look at tattooing as an art, and art as a local history. History does not just come in the form of musty textbooks and old film reels; observing art gives clues and meaning to the historical context in which it takes place. Thinking about and setting out to discover that individual publicly-displayed artwork’s place in history — whether it is a tattoo on someone’s arm, graffiti on the side of an abandoned train station, or a painting in a non-descript coffee shop — and why it came to be, opens the doors for that curious onlooker to pursue local historical research and gain an understanding of the community around him.

[1709]

[1] Doug Hardy. Interview by author. Digital recording. San Francisco, CA., May 18, 2013.

[2] Thomas Albright. Art in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1945-1980: An Illustrated History. (University of California Press: 1985): 169.

[3] See note 1 above.

[4] See note 1 above.

[5] “Japanese Tattoo.” Asian Art Museum. Accessed May 30, 2013. http://education.asianart.org/explore-resources/video/japanese-tattoo

[6] Joshua Mohr. “The Illustrated Man: On SF’s Tattoo Culture.” 7×7. June 7, 2010.

Bibliography

Albright, Thomas. Art in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1945-1980: An Illustrated History. (University of California Press: 1985): 169.

“C.W. Eldridge.” Tattoo Archive, accessed April 23, 2013.
http://tattooarchive.com/cw_eldridge.html

Eldridge, C.W. “San Francisco.” Tattoo Archive, accessed April 23, 2013.
http://www.tattooarchive.com/tattoo_history/san_francisco.html

Gatewood, Charles. “Tattoo San Francisco.” Tattoo Road Trip, (2010), accessed May 14, 2013.
http://tattooroadtrip.com/blog/2010/05/page/2/

Hardy, Doug. Interview by Maria Morales. Digital recording. San Francisco, CA., May 18, 2013.

“Japanese Tattoo.” Asian Art Museum. Accessed May 30, 2013. http://education.asianart.org/explore-resources/video/japanese-tattoo

Krutak, Lars. “Marks of Transformation: Tribal Tattooing in California and the American Southwest,” last modified 2010. The Vanishing Tattoo, accessed May 7, 2013.
http://www.vanishingtattoo.com/california_tattooed_tribes.htm

Kuhn, Marcus. “Episode 3: San Francisco, CA.” The Gypsy Gentleman, accessed April 23, 2013.
http://gypsygentleman.com/#/episode3

Kyvig, David E. and Marty, Myron A. Nearby History: Exploring the Past Around You, 3rd ed. (Plymouth, United Kingdom: AltaMira Press, 2010): 14, 115-129.

Mohr, Joshua. “The Illustrated Man: On SF’s Tattoo Culture.” 7×7. June 7, 2010.

Porcella, Audrey. “Tattoos: A Marked History” (Senior project, California Polytechnic State University, 2009).

Schildkrout, Enid. “Inscribing the Body.” Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol. 33 (2004): 319-344.

Wageman, Virginia. “The New Tattoo, by Victoria Lautman.” Art Journal, Vol. 54, No. 1, Clothing as Subject (Spring, 1995): 106+108.

Wu, Corinna. “Disappearing Ink: Tattoo Technology for Modern Impermanence.” Science News, Vol. 172, No. 15 (Oct. 13, 2007): 232+234.

Doug Hardy, in front of Ed Hardy’s Tattoo City, in San Francisco. From Tattoo Road Trip.

Now that the scope of my research has been better-defined, it is time to set out on doing research firsthand.

One of my primary sources will be tattoo artist Doug Hardy. He currently tattoos out of Tattoo City, the very same shop started by his father, Ed Hardy. Doug and Tattoo City are located in the North Beach district of San Francisco. Even the shop itself is something of a historical landmark. Doug explains, “The first Tattoo City was established at 2906 Mason, in the Mission district, in 1977. It featured fine-line, black-and-gray work, which was new at the time. But the studio was destroyed by fire in 1978. The second Tattoo City opened at 722 Columbus avenue in 1991. It was a busy, appointment-only shop emphasizing large custom tattoos. Our present shop, at 700 Lombard, opened on Valentine’s day, 1999.”[1] Furthermore, “[t]he walls are hung with flash by Ed Hardy, Owen Jensen, Sailor Jerry and many others. Outrageous paintings, posters, sculptures and collectibles are everywhere, and the vast reference library is certainly one of San Francisco’s finest.”[2] The shop is practically a museum and library jam-packed all into one, with Doug as the tour guide!

Both the Hardy name and Tattoo City are important not only in San Francisco Bay Area tattoo history and culture, but also the world. I hope to pick Doug’s brain about his perceptions of the Bay Area tattoo scene, then and now. In my previous post, I touched on the idea of tattooing as both an art form and as a form of preserving history for oneself and would like to hear Doug’s thoughts on that, as well as his interpretations on tattooing being more than simple body adornment.

Late last year, Hardy Marks Publications re-released all five Tattootime magazines (1982-1991) as two hardbound volumes. These veritable tattoo tomes are filled with articles and interviews, all pertaining to the art, its different styles and permutations, and even its various symbolism. There is a good chance that the articles will discuss the Bay Area in some way — or at the very least, contain interviews with/conducted by established Bay Area figures. The copy I am borrowing was purchased at Tattoo City in San Francisco late last year.

As for secondary sources, I perused the school’s database for a variety of articles on tattooing. I found an article from an ethno- and anthropological perspective in an anthropology journal, an art review of a photo exhibit about tattoos in an art journal, and an article on new, modern tattoo practices in a science journal. While I am skeptical as to how I can incorporate this information into my published research, I still think it is important to be open-minded and well-rounded; this means reading about what other people think is important or fascinating about a certain topic.

The aforementioned articles are as follows:

Enid Schildkrout. “Inscribing the Body.” Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol. 33 (2004): 319-344.

Virginia Wageman. “The New Tattoo, by Victoria Lautman.” Art Journal, Vol. 54, No. 1, Clothing as Subject (Spring, 1995): 106+108.

Corinna Wu. “Disappearing Ink: Tattoo Technology for Modern Impermanence.” Science News, Vol. 172, No. 15 (Oct. 13, 2007): 232+234.

In attempting to establish a historical context of my research, I have inadvertently flip-flopped between eras — from the pre-colonial Ohlone/Costanoan period to the mid-20th century to today. However, highlighting the Hardy family and Tattoo City has once again placed great importance on the San Francisco Bay Area not only as the birthplace of the American Tattoo Renaissance during the 1960s and 1970s, but as a culturally-significant and diverse region of the country. Moreover, the Bay Area’s military heritage and importance as a port region brought in a lot of different types of people who spoke different languages and held different customs from one another. Despite this, minorities and marginalized populations were able to find common ground thanks to the military; “Filipinos, African Americans, and Mexican Americans connected to the military had much in common for this reason. They were thus able to come together over divisive issues such as urban renewal in the 1960s and 1970s because they accepted one another as members of a military community, not just as communities of color.”[3]

I immediately imagine sailors of all colors and creeds getting together, being merry, and comparing the tattoos they have received from their travels around the world. After all, I am focusing on tattoos as important bookmarks in one’s life (whether the tattoos themselves have actual “meaning” or not), as rites of passage, and am setting out to show how the San Francisco Bay Area has helped propel this art and ritual into popularity and social acceptance, and helped preserve it as an important form of individual expression and personal historiography.

[805]

[1] Charles Gatewood. “Tattoo San Francisco.” Tattoo Road Trip, (2010), accessed May 14, 2013.
http://tattooroadtrip.com/blog/2010/05/page/2/

[2] Ibid.

[3] Albert M. Camarillo. “Cities of Color: The New Racial Frontier in California’s Minority-Majority Cities.” Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 76, No. 1 (Feb., 2007): 1-28.

Bibliography

“C.W. Eldridge.” Tattoo Archive, accessed April 23, 2013.
http://tattooarchive.com/cw_eldridge.html

Eldridge, C.W. “San Francisco.” Tattoo Archive, accessed April 23, 2013.
http://www.tattooarchive.com/tattoo_history/san_francisco.html

Gatewood, Charles. “Tattoo San Francisco.” Tattoo Road Trip, (2010), accessed May 14, 2013.
http://tattooroadtrip.com/blog/2010/05/page/2/

Krutak, Lars. “Marks of Transformation: Tribal Tattooing in California and the American Southwest,” last modified 2010. The Vanishing Tattoo, accessed May 7, 2013.
http://www.vanishingtattoo.com/california_tattooed_tribes.htm

Kuhn, Marcus. “Episode 3: San Francisco, CA.” The Gypsy Gentleman, accessed April 23, 2013.
http://gypsygentleman.com/#/episode3

Kyvig, David E. and Marty, Myron A. Nearby History: Exploring the Past Around You, 3rd ed. (Plymouth, United Kingdom: AltaMira Press, 2010): 14, 115-129.

Porcella, Audrey. “Tattoos: A Marked History” (Senior project, California Polytechnic State University, 2009).

Schildkrout, Enid. “Inscribing the Body.” Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol. 33 (2004): 319-344.

Wageman, Virginia. “The New Tattoo, by Victoria Lautman.” Art Journal, Vol. 54, No. 1, Clothing as Subject (Spring, 1995): 106+108.

Wu, Corinna. “Disappearing Ink: Tattoo Technology for Modern Impermanence.” Science News, Vol. 172, No. 15 (Oct. 13, 2007): 232+234.

Ohlone/Costanoan woman with geometric neck, arm and chin tattoos, ca. 1810. Lars Krutak, Vanishing Tattoo.

Ohlone/Costanoan woman with geometric neck, arm and chin tattoos, ca. 1810. Lars Krutak, Vanishing Tattoo.

California is rife with cultural diversity and historical significance — from its indigenous populations, to the different ethnic groups that eventually called the state home, to the cultural revolutions that have taken place and continue to take place here. The topic of tattooing has been the focus of many sociologists, anthropologists, and art historians, many of whom focus only on the wavering popularity and social stigmas associated with the art throughout generations past. Surely there is more to the history of tattooing than different styles, the multiple rises and declines in its popularity and degrees of exoticism, and perceived associated deviant behavior. My goal this quarter is to delve past the surface of what material has already been previously discussed. What more is there to tattooing in the Bay Area than what has already been taken only at face value?

Tattoos have been the subject of both admiration and social stigma. Though not an invalid observation, California Polytechnic State University student Audrey Porcella gives a history of tattooing throughout the ages based on these aspects — albeit quite brief. She admits she “had always been opposed to tattoos — an opinion [she] had adopted from [her] parents. But with the infiltration of tattoos into her life […] she was forced to evaluate her opinion.”[1] While it is important to know the historical context of tattooing, her resulting research is still a rather skimpy, generalized history of tattooing and the changes in its social standing in the past few centuries. It is not a reevaluation of her opinion of tattoos as she initially states as much as it is an annotated timeline of the general history of tattooing as a whole. Furthermore, I would like to celebrate the art of tattooing as well as tattooed people of the Bay Area, rather than feel forced to analyze it due to its supposed infiltration of everyday life.

I am hoping to explore the depths of this subject further: Why is tattooing in the Bay Area historically significant? What does tattooing and its historical roots in the Bay Area say about this area of California? What is the bigger picture? These are questions I must continually ask myself over and over again to focus my research over the course of the next few weeks in order to get a satisfying answer — one that does not water down the art’s history, but seeks to extract a deeper, more profound meaning about local sociological and anthropological history, and how we choose to record it.

Although tattooing in the Bay Area did not gain popularity until the last century, California’s indigenous people have been practicing the art since precolonial days. Furthermore, modern tattooing in general has been more associated as a predominantly male pastime — both receiving the tattoo and performing the art — but this has not always been the case in California’s history. Lars Krutak, a trained archaeologist and cultural anthropologist who has spent years exploring the complex symbolism of indigenous tattoos throughout the world, acknowledges that “tattooing performed at the time of puberty was perhaps the most important rite of passage for indigenous women among the tattooing tribes of California and the Native American Southwest.” In addition, “the power of tattooing was derived from magical forces that transcended time, space, and human existence itself.”[2]

The indigenous population’s reasons for tattooing the body transcends simple body adornment. Krutak romanticized and idealized approach looks past tattooing as art for art’s sake. He focuses not on the reactions caused by the tattoos, but the reasons one bears tattoos in the first place. Tattoos were not given to enhance an individual’s physical appearance; instead, they were given as a rite of passage — a celebration of an important life event or coming of age. Observing and analyzing tattoos in this way helps to highlight what values and beliefs are important not just in a specific culture, but also what is important to a specific individual. More importantly, the act of celebrating a momentous life occasion is tantamount. In these modern times, people preserve the memories of their important life events through photographs, diary entries, scrapbooks, and so on. These are all perfectly valid means of essentially compiling and recording history both of their life and, on a more grand scale, of their culture. Is it not the case that receiving a tattoo as a result of a meaningful life event is just as much a legitimate form of recording history by oneself, for oneself?

While tattooed people are not recognized by the government as a notable ethnic or cultural group, tattooing in the San Francisco Bay Area has great historical importance — not just as the thriving birthplace of the American Tattoo Renaissance, but also as an important locale that fueled and continues to fuel the means of recording personal history on oneself. By receiving a tattoo, an individual not only commands control and independence over one’s body, but records history for oneself as one sees it. Tattooing is unique and peculiar in that, at its core, its history is only as important as the individual’s decision to mark his or her own body to remind him or herself of that momentous occasion into perpetuity.

[869]

[1] Audrey Porcella. “Tattoos: A Marked History” (Senior project, California Polytechnic State University, 2009)

[2] Lars Krutak. “Marks of Transformation: Tribal Tattooing in California and the American Southwest.” The Vanishing Tattoo, accessed May 7, 2013.
http://www.vanishingtattoo.com/california_tattooed_tribes.htm

Bibliography

“C.W. Eldridge.” Tattoo Archive, accessed April 23, 2013.
http://tattooarchive.com/cw_eldridge.html

Eldridge, C.W. “San Francisco.” Tattoo Archive, accessed April 23, 2013.
http://www.tattooarchive.com/tattoo_history/san_francisco.html

Krutak, Lars. “Marks of Transformation: Tribal Tattooing in California and the American Southwest,” last modified 2010. The Vanishing Tattoo, accessed May 7, 2013.
http://www.vanishingtattoo.com/california_tattooed_tribes.htm

Kuhn, Marcus. “Episode 3: San Francisco, CA.” The Gypsy Gentleman, accessed April 23, 2013.
http://gypsygentleman.com/#/episode3

Kyvig, David E. and Marty, Myron A. Nearby History: Exploring the Past Around You, 3rd ed. (Plymouth, United Kingdom: AltaMira Press, 2010): 14.

Porcella, Audrey. “Tattoos: A Marked History” (Senior project, California Polytechnic State University, 2009).

…And so begins the long (but by no means dull) process of historical inquiry: researching and gathering sources. Although it is easy to find someone who possesses ink in their skin, I am apprehensive as to how many scholarly sources there are regarding the art that is specific to the [somewhat recent] time period in which I am interested. That is, I feel it will be a much more difficult journey to find primary sources relating to tattooing’s boom in popularity in the San Francisco Bay Area during the early- to mid-twentieth century as opposed to, say, a scholarly document or archive on the tattooing of criminals during Feudal Japan.

C.W. Eldridge. From the Tattoo Archive.

C.W. Eldridge. From the Tattoo Archive.

However, I was most pleased when I came upon the Tattoo Archive online. The website is run by C.W. Eldridge, a tattoo artist, enthusiast, and collector (of both tattoos and historical tattoo materials). His biography and background also fit the era on which I intend to concentrate; he “joined the United States Navy in 1965 and set off for a real education. … When [Don Ed] Hardy opened the original Tattoo City in San Francisco in 1978, he offered [Eldridge] an opportunity to learn the art of tattooing.”[1] Initially, I was rather uneasy about what, if any, primary sources I could find on this particular art during this particular time period in this particular place, but the Bay Area is rife with primary sources: the artists themselves. Furthermore, the time frame in question is recent enough where many of these artists were and are still able to share their memoirs and knowledge over the internet.

C.W. Eldridge’s past as a tattooed sailor in San Francisco is not a novelty or unique coincidence; “San Francisco was shaped by its closeness to the ocean. During World War II, San Francisco became one of the world’s largest shipbuilding centers; thousands of military personnel were stationed in and around the city. This fact alone may have more to do with the strength of the tattoo business in San Francisco more than anything else.”[2]

After reading this passage on the Tattoo Archive website, I immediately remembered the online travel documentary, The Gypsy Gentleman. The show’s host, Marcus Kuhn, is a tattoo artist whose travels are chronicled in this online documentary. In the series’ third episode, he makes a visit to the San Francisco Bay Area. He briefly discusses what he (and perhaps others) call the “American Tattoo Renaissance.”

While tattooing became popular around and after World War II, the American Tattoo Renaissance started in the 1970s; a lot of American tattoo artists started to look to the East, particularly the large and detailed traditional Japanese body art compositions. “[American tattoo artists] started to evolve artistically and they created a whole new wave of tattooing in the United States. … It brought in a whole new demographic of clients into the studio.”[3] Furthermore, “tattooers throughout the country started to emulate what was going on in San Francisco, but really, up until the early 1990s, … this was the cradle of tattoo civilization.”[4]

In focusing my research to a specific time and place, I have learned how much outside inspiration the San Francisco Bay Area tattoo community has both derived and created. Just like the immigrants and sailors that passed through San Francisco, tattoo artists brought inspiration and ideas from near and afar, creating a unique beauty in their new home by the Bay.

[569]

[1] “C.W. Eldridge,” Tattoo Archive, accessed April 23, 2013. http://tattooarchive.com/cw_eldridge.html

[2] C.W. Eldridge. “San Francisco.” Tattoo Archive, accessed April 23, 2013. http://www.tattooarchive.com/tattoo_history/san_francisco.html

[3] Marcus Kuhn. “Episode 3: San Francisco, CA.” The Gypsy Gentleman, accessed April 23, 2013. http://www.gypsygentleman.com/#/episode3

[4] Ibid.

Bibliography

“C.W. Eldridge.” Tattoo Archive, accessed April 23, 2013. http://tattooarchive.com/cw_eldridge.html.

Eldridge, C.W. “San Francisco.” Tattoo Archive, accessed April 23, 2013. http://www.tattooarchive.com/tattoo_history/san_francisco.html.

Kuhn, Marcus. “Episode 3: San Francisco, CA.” The Gypsy Gentleman, accessed April 23, 2013. http://gypsygentleman.com/#/episode3.

Kyvig, David E. and Marty, Myron A. Nearby History: Exploring the Past Around You, 3rd ed. (Plymouth, United Kingdom: AltaMira Press, 2010): 14.

For countless generations, humankind has been finding new creative outlets and means of expression. From the earliest cave painting to the most recent art movement, people have developed and continue to develop ways to express ideas, evoke emotions, and identify themselves; however, few art forms focus on the individual’s own body. The art form that I find most intriguing and even revealing about others is the art of tattooing.

Although tattooing as a practice has existed for a few thousand years, it had not gained popularity until the middle to the end of the 20th century. It was not until recently that tattoos were acceptable in some workplaces and that it was more-or-less socially-acceptable to have them. How and why baring tattoos in polite society has grown to become acceptable are some of the aspects of its history that I seek to discover. This time frame seems to be most crucial in the art form’s history because initially, tattoos were found only on the bodies of sailors, freak show performers, criminals, and “uncivilized” native populations. Jews were also tattooed with a serial number during the Holocaust for identification reasons. There was, and perhaps still is, a social stigma attached to these permanent markings, these forms of body modification.

My back, in progress. February 2011.

My back, in progress. February 2011.

Perhaps what fascinates me most is why people, to this day, get tattoos. Are there still these stigmas attached to tattoos, and if so, what are they and how have they evolved? Why is it that some people react so strongly, whether positively or negatively, to someone else’s own expression on their own body? There is race discrimination, gender discrimination, sexual orientation discrimination, age discrimination, and now there is such a thing as tattoo discrimination. Does such a thing exist here in the Bay Area, and to what extent?

The San Francisco Bay Area has a thriving tattoo community with an even richer history still. One such notable figure is Don Ed Hardy, whose tattoo studio, Tattoo City, still stands and operates in San Francisco’s North Beach district. I have crossed paths with him once before and have had the pleasure of receiving a traditional style tattoo on my right forearm from his son, Doug Hardy. The Hardy family is a family of tattoo historians in their own right, and I hope to work with Doug for this project. I am certain he would be a valuable resource in discovering why the Bay Area is such a hotbed for artists. I suspect it is thanks to the various ports around the Bay (a warm welcome to sailors, many of whom received tattoos as souvenirs from around the world) as well as the bustling artist communities and socially-liberal values associated with this area.

What also interests me about tattoos and the people who own them are the stories behind both the permanent pictures and the individuals. “The emotional rewards of learning about a past that has plainly and directly affected one’s own life cannot be duplicated by any other historical inquiry.”[1] It is a diverse community, one that can be studied and researched as if it were any ethnic or socioeconomic population here in the Bay Area. However, what is most appealing to me as a tattoo enthusiast and now local historian is that we (as inked people) have — knowingly or unknowingly — volunteered ourselves into this community. We did not choose our sex or ethnicity or social standing at birth, all of which are social aspects of our lives by which we are judged at some point or another. But we can choose how we present ourselves, whether it is because of or in spite of how the general public reacts to our appearance, and whether we want that appearance to have negative or positive associations.

Tattooed people come in all shapes and sizes, ages and creeds, and can don any style from traditional American to Eastern to tribal and everything in between. However, despite our differences, we will always have a common bond: obviously, the tattoos on our bodies that identify us, but more importantly, the want or need to identify ourselves through these permanent markings.

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[1] David E. Kyvig, Myron A. Marty. Nearby History: Exploring the Past Around You, 3rd ed. (Plymouth, United Kingdom: AltaMira Press, 2010): 14.

Bibliography

Kyvig, David E. and Marty, Myron A. Nearby History: Exploring the Past Around You, 3rd ed. (Plymouth, United Kingdom: AltaMira Press, 2010): 14.