Tattoo History 6: The Circus/Sideshow and Tattoos

Tattoos were an important part of the sideshow in circuses and carnivals from the end of the 1800’s and into the early 1900’s. Though tattoos didn’t become an integral part of the circus until this later time, tattoos in the circus originated around 1804 (approximately) when Jean Baptiste Cabri (also seen as Kabri) who had been tattooed by the Marquesas in the Pacifics joined a carnival. Jean was a French deserter who fled to the Pacific Islands and lived there with his wife whom he met and married there. He acquired a large number of tattoos while there, all of which had a specific meaning. His tattoos were a mark of entering manhood, and meant that he had been fully accepted as one of the islanders. Jean was discovered on the island by Russian explorers, and after some convincing, went back with them to Europe to tour in a carnival as a heavily tattooed man.

tattoo Jean Baptiste Cabri
Jean Baptiste Cabri

The first tattooed man to be apart of the circus in America was named James F. O’Connell. James was an important part of Barnum’s circus in 1842, specifically in the “freak show”. James was tattooed head to toe in tribal Polynesian style during his time as a prisoner on the Caroline Islands in the South Pacific. James became shipwrecked on the islands and lived apparently by dancing Irish jigs to entertain the local islanders. He was then forcibly tattooed over a period of eight days, and even forced to marry one of the women who tattooed him. After about 5 years on the island another ship finally landed and brought him back to America where he started life in the circus as the first tattooed man in America to be part of the show.

tattoo James F. O'Connell
James F. O’Connell

After O’Connell, a Greek man nicknamed Prince Constantine, and also Captain Constentenus quickly became immensely popular in 1873 due to his extremely heavily tattooed body which at this time was rarely seen. His tattoos covered his hands, neck and face.He reportedly had 388 tattoos. He may have been the most popular and wealthy tattooed circus member of this time, bringing in around one hundred dollar US a week, which was a lot of money for this time. His tattoos included hundreds of animals and small filler pieces all over his body, tattooed over a period of three months with three hours of tattooing being done every morning.

tattoo captain Costentenus
Captain Constentenus/ Prince Constantine

Women also had their place in the circus world of tattoos. Nora Hildebrandt is known as the first tattooed woman to earn a living based on her ink. Nora had an elaborate (but untrue) story of how she got her tattoos. To attract more attention, she claimed that her tattoos were forcibly done on her by “savage Lakota Indians” when in reality she was born in London, and tattooed by her common law husband Martin Hildebrandt. Some thought Martin was her father or her actual husband, but according to numerous sources it looks as though Nora was not actually related to Martin. Martin was one of the first (if not the first) permanent tattoo artist in America, tattooing in New York after tattooing soldiers in the civil war and travelling with the Navy. At just 25 years old Nora was able to make a career for herself in the circus business starting in 1882. Nora is most famous for being in the Barnum and Bailey’s Circus in New York.

tattoo Nora Hildebrandt
Nora Hildebrandt

Women quickly became the more popular option of viewing when it came to seeing tattooed people, as seeing a woman showing skin at this time was scandalous and unheard of. Naturally this alone drew crowds. In the 1920’s one of the more head-turning women in the circus was a woman called Lady Viola. Lady Viola was very popular in part due to her often being known as “The most beautiful tattooed woman in the world” as well as her unique tattoos, some of which were early portrait work of well known people such as Charlie Chaplin, Tom Mix, and presidents Wilson, Washington, and Lincoln across her chest.

tattoo lady viola
Lady Viola

For around 70 years or so, every big circus employed tattooed people as part of the act, showcasing them as freaks or acts just because of their ink, and as part of other acts such as juggling, feats of strength, sword swallowing, fire breathing, and more. Tattooed people made good money travelling with a circus as different circuses had rivalries with each other, so these people could get the best pay from those who wanted them badly enough. Tattoo artists could also make a good living by either travelling with a circus or setting up shop in a location where lots of circuses stopped.

tattoo sideshow banner by Fred G. Johnson
Circus banner by Fred G. Johnson

While tattoos in the circus remained a popular staple in this form of entertainment (even today), they did lose some of their mystery and novelty around the early 1900’s with the invention of the modern electric tattoo machine. Thanks to this machine more and more people were getting tattooed. In order to keep people interested circuses had to step it up a notch. This was done by presenting whole families of tattooed people, tattooed dwarves, motorcycle riders, and even tattooed animals.

tattoo tattooed family
Tattooed family

Popular circus tattoo artists include Stoney St. Claire, who along with being a tattoo artist, was also a sword swallower.

tattoo Stoney St. Claire
Stoney St. Claire

Another artist was Jack Dracula, an artist most famous for working out of Coney Island. Jack was also heavily tattooed himself, and is famous for his facial tattoos, some of which he at least partially did on himself before he realized tattooing his own face would prove a too daunting task.

tattoo Jack Dracula
Jack Dracula

Charles Wagner was another famous artist responsible for tattooing over 50 people who were, or went on to be tattoo attractions. Charles worked out of New York and is also famous for patenting a tattoo machine, improving upon the new design Samuel O’Reilly had created to make tattooing faster and less painful, as well as more sterile.

tattoo Charles Wagner
Charles Wagner and a number of his clients

Samuel O’Reilly patented the first “modern” tattoo machine, and also fully tattooed up to 12 ladies in the late 1800’s.

tattoo o'reilly
O’Reilly’s machine

Many of the tattooed people were also at least part time artists themselves, giving them a chance to earn more money.

Tattooing was an extremely important part of the circus world (and still is), and is also in part responsible for how quickly tattooing became popular in North America and some parts of Europe.

 

Information taken from books:

-Circus Age : Culture and Society under the American Big Top
by Janet M. Davis

– The Life and Adventures of James F. O’Connell, the Tattooed Man by James F. O’Connell

-Twelve Days at Nuku Hiva : Russian Encounters and Mutiny in the South Pacific
by Elena Govor

-Tattooed : The Sociogenesis of a Body Art
by Michael M. Atkinson

-The Greatest Shows on Earth : A History of the Circus
by Linda Simon

and websites:

http://www.thehumanmarvels.com

http://www.vanishingtattoo.com

http://www.tattooarchive.com

 

 

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Foo/Fu Dog Tattoos:

Foo, or Fu Dogs as they are known as in the West are Chinese lion guardians called Shi. These creatures are both guardians and good luck charms. When placed outside buildings they are meant to protect those inside from negative energy and to stop those with intent to harm from entering. These ancient symbols have been around since the Han Dynasty (206 BC- 220 AD).

foo Alex T. Frazer at Bravest Kids Tattoo, Manchester UK
American traditional Foo head by Alex T. Frazer at Bravest Kids Tattoo, Manchester UK.
foo Andy Pho at Skin Design Tattoos
Realistic Foo statue done by Andy Pho at Skin Designs Tattoos.
foo Danh Vu at Inkman Tattoo in Brooklyn NY
Huge rib piece with Foo and flowers by Danh Vu at Inkman Tattoo in Brooklyn, NY.

As a tattoo this creature is also meant to be protective. Keeping the wearer safe from harm. This creature is also tattooed to be a representation of the wearer’s strength, courage, and heroism.

foo David Hoang at Chronic Ink Tattoos, Toronto
Realistic stomach piece by David Hoang at Chronic Ink Tattoos in Toronto.
foo Tristen Zhang Chronic Ink Toronto
Back of neck foo by Tristen Zhang at Chronic Ink Tattoo in Toronto.
foo Hori Taka Kyoto, Japan
Brilliant Japanese backpiece by Hori Taka in Kyoto, Japan.

Foo dogs are firstly a Chinese tattoo, but are also associated with Japanese tattoo’s and can be incorporated into Japanese pieces. They are often also done as black and grey pieces, American traditional, and realism pieces.

foo Horiei Shinsu, Matsumoto City, Japan
Golden foo and daruma doll and flowers by Horiei Shinshu in Matsumoto City, Japan.
foo Jin Q Choi at Seoul INk Tattoo Studio
Foo and flower chest piece by Jin Q Choi at Seoul Ink Tattoo Studio.
Foo Kentzho Starbrade at Black Bamba Ink and Orc Tattoos
Black and grey foo by Kentzho Starbrade at Black Bamba Ink and Orc tattoos.
foo Steve Black at All of One Tattoo Studio
Forearm filler foo by Steve Black at All of One Tattoo Studio.
foo Sue Kidder Old Ironside Tattoo, Honolulu
Foo head chest piece by Sue Kidder at Old Ironside Tattoo, Honolulu.
foo Yan Jingdiao in China
Bright foo sleeve by Yan Jingdiao in China.

Foo dogs are often placed on hands, with the head fitting perfectly, lining up with the knuckles.

foo Anna Waychoff at Powerhouse Tattoo
Blue foo by Anna Waychoff at Powerhouse Tattoo.
foo Brian Donovan at Davidian Tattoo Studio
Red and blue foo head by Brian Donovan at Davidian Tattoo Studio.
Foo Nicolas Malagon Casas in Columbia
Black and grey foo with a third eye done by Nicolas Malagon Casas in Columbia.
foo @pandern8er at Main Street Tattoo Collective
Colourful hand foo by @pandern8er at Main Street Tattoo Collective in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Foo Dog’s make a brilliant and powerful tattoo for those seeking protection and good fortune.

 

Winnipeg Artist 5: Vince (Rebel Waltz)

Vince is a Winnipeg tattoo artist working out of Rebel Waltz. Vince does brilliant American traditional work, creating his own original work as well as doing the shop’s flash work.

vince 1
Classic clasped hands and wreaths.
vince 2
Badass wolf head!
vince 3
Bright lighthouse.
vince 4
Aboriginal girl head.
vince 5
Angry snake head.
vince 6
Classic swallow, lantern, and “dad”.
vince 7
Skull, scythe, and spider web.
vince 8
Disney piece featuring Chip from Beauty and the Beast and Tinkerbell from Peter Pan.
vince 9
Eagle!
vince 10
Beautiful stag and traditional flower.
vince 11
Japanese peony!
vince 12
Bold stomach scorpion.
vince 13
Aboriginal styled bear paw and head.
vince 14
American traditional deaths head moth.
vince 15
Brilliant traditional dragon!
vince 16
Bart Simpson skull.

Vince is a must visit artist for you walk in and American traditional needs! He is a fantastic up and comer in the Winnipeg tattoo scene.

Artist of the Month: James Mckenna

James Mckenna is an artist at Foothills Tattoo Byford – Western Australia. James is a painter as well as a tattoo artist, with a focus on surreal and horror themed pieces, mixing American traditional and neo traditional styles.

1
Multiple skulls as a gap filler.
2
Elbow ditch surrealist skull hidden within spider webs.
3
Vicious demon above a skull and snake piece.
4
Leopard within a leopard within a leopard.
5
Traditional elbow mandala.

The majority of James’ work features skulls, often hidden within designs. Other work includes lady heads, animals, and demons.

6
Neo traditional lady head.
7
Leg sleeve castle with secret passages and a snake mixed in.
8
Big ole’ jaguar, scorpion, and flower. Heavy on the black!
16
Skull added to the stomach piece!
9
Neo traditional bear and skull in a tender spot!
10
Healed blackwork snake within a snake!
11
Leg snake!
12
Evil looking demon under the armpit.
13
Butterfly lady head!
14
New twist on a classic skull and snake.
15
Jaguar and lady head.
17
Knee big cat and butterfly.

James is a must see artist if you’re travelling through Western Australia.

 

Geisha Tattoos:

The geisha, or, “person of accomplishment” date back to 1751 in the mid-Tokugawa period in Japan. Geisha’s were originally men, but eventually became women.

geisha Ami James
Deep in thought by Ami James.

Geisha’s were trained artists skilled in tea ceremony, flower arranging, and as singers, dancers, storytellers, servers, and conversationalists. These women were all literate and were familiar with poetry and tales of warriors in order to entertain their patrons. Geisha’s were not prostitutes, but worked in the pleasure districts, also called “the floating world” and while not they were not sex workers, some did become concubines or mistresses for men who would buy their contracts from their masters.

geisha Andrew Mcnally at Northside Private Rooms in Newcastle
Black and grey neo Japanese geisha with cherry blossoms by Andrew Mcnally at Northside Private Rooms in Newcastle, UK.
geisha Anna Yershova
Realistic side/stomach piece with cherry blossoms by Anna Yershova.
geisha Asakusa Horiyasu
Brilliant Japanese back piece by Horiyasu.

Geisha’s are known for their musical prowess, particularly with an instrument called samisen, which today is also used in kabuki plays and has an inherently “Japanese” sound. As for appearance, while working a geisha would wear a kimono tied from the back, which is another difference between a geisha and a prostitute as a prostitute would have her kimono tied in the front. A thick white foundation of makeup is applied to the face, neck, and upper chest, with a line around the hairline creating a mask like appearance. Other makeup includes black around the eyes and eyebrows with bright red lips.

geisha Daniel Gensch
Fantastic neo traditional neck piece also with cherry blossoms, by Daniel Gensch in Berlin, Germany.
geisha Emily Rose Murray
A more Westernized neo traditional geisha by Emily Rose Murray in Melbourne, Australia.
geisha Gakkin
Blackwork Japanese piece of a sly looking geisha by Gakkin in Amsterdam.
geisha Horihana in Brasil
Another traditional Japanese back piece with cherry blossoms, skeleton, and Buddhist imagery by Horihana in Brazil.
Geisha Jarrad Serafino at The Sweet Life Tattoo in Melbourne
Dark American traditional geisha and flower by Jarrad Serafino at The Sweet Life Tattoo in Melbourne, Australia.

Geisha’s still exist today, though due in part to the rigorous training in order to become one, are much less frequent. Today, geisha’s mainly entertain politicians at parties.

geisha Kevin Nocerino at Still Life Tattoo
Neo traditional namakubi or severed head geisha with peony by Kevin Nocerino at Still Life Tattoo.
geisha Mark Wosgerau
Realistic black and grey geisha by Mark Wosgerau at Sinners Inc in Denmark.
geisha Michael Litovkin
Bold mix of black and grey and colour in a realistic style by Michael Litovkin.
geisha Pavel Krim
Soft, colourful, realistic geisha by Pavel Krim in Stockholm.
Geisha Reuben Todd at Kapala tattoo in Winnipeg
American traditional black and red work by Reuben Todd at Kapala Tattoo in Winnipeg.

As a tattoo a geisha will generally be done in Japanese traditional style, neo Japanese, American traditional, neo traditional, black and grey, or realism.

geisha Shon Lindauer in Hollywood
American traditional work by Shon Lindauer in Hollywood.
geisha Thomas Pineiro at Black Garden Tattoo in the UK
Fantastic Japanese piece by Thomas Pineiro at Black Garden Tattoo in the UK.
geisha Tony Nilsson in Norway
Bold American traditional piece by Tony Nilsson in Norway.
geisha Victor Octaviano
Modern watercolor piece by Victor Octaviano in Brazil.
Geisha William Roos in Stockholm
tiny blackwork geisha and hannya by William Roos in Stockholm.
Geisha Zak Partak in Toronto
Geisha head and fan by Zak Partak in Toronto.

Geisha’s are an important part of Japanese history and make a fantastic design!

Artist of the Month: Nissaco

Nissaco is a tattoo artist based in Shinsaibashi Osaka at an unnamed private studio that goes by the name room_23_26 on Instagram.

Nissaco 1
Smaller scale pieces. Healed waves and fresh geometrical shell design.

Nissaco does mainly large scale pieces such as full sleeves, back pieces, and even body suits. His style is black geometrical work and it is extremely detailed.

Nissaco 2
Big and painful back of the leg going right over the knee ditch with some popping red in the mandala and linework designs.
Nissaco 3
Full back piece right over the butt and legs leading into a great sleeve on the left arm. Some great use of negative space in the back.
Nissaco 4
Fantastic sleeve with bird skull and eye mixed with geometrical designs.

His work is hard sought after with visitors going to see him from all around the world. Along with having clients from around the world, he also travels, going to various tattoo conventions. Most recent he will be at the 13th London Tattoo convention in September 2017.

Nissaco 5
Filler neck/throat piece that fits great with the adjacent neck pieces.
Nissaco 7
Matching geometric sleeves.
Nissaco 8
Full back and legs with a lot of heavy blackwork for filler.
Nissaco 9
Full front is a tender area going right onto the nipples, with brilliant line work and heavy blacks.
Nissaco 12
Brilliant full torso, sleeve, and two leg sleeves with geometric designs and a hidden face.
Nissaco 13
Half body suit full of heavy blacks in large scale geometrics.
Nissaco 15
Fantastic intricate healed geometric design.

Along with being geometrical in design, Nissaco’s work also often features classic Japanese elements such as dragons, waves, flowers, snakes, koi fish, and hannya masks. These pieces are almost entirely black, but occasionally feature a small amount of red to make them really pop.

Nissaco 6
Full front, sleeve, and half leg sleeve. Featuring a brilliant Japanese dragon, and flowers such as chrysanthemums and cherry blossoms.
Nissaco 10
Great geometric koi fish with some colour thrown in.
Nissaco 11
Heavy blacks and lots of negative space with this angry hannya.
Nissaco 14
Another hannya coming off of a sleeve and onto the back.

Nissaco is a must see artist in Osaka, Japan, but book well in advance as his books fill up fast!

Rick and Morty Tattoos:

Rick and Morty is a popular animated adult sitcom created by Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon for Adult Swim. The show follows the Sanchez/Smith family, with a focus on the drunken mad scientist, Rick, and his grandson Morty, who go on crazy adventures throughout the universe, as Rick has technology that allows interdimensional travel. The pair meet hostile monsters, aliens, and see fantastic worlds, always getting themselves into horrible situations.

RM Amy Tenenbaum Carausel Custom Tattoos Newbury, UK
Tiny Rick by Amy Tenenbaum at Carousel Custom Tattoo s, Newbury UK.
RM John Anderton at Nemesis Tattoo in the UK.
Great realistic Rick and Morty by John Anderton at Nemesis Tattoo in the UK.
RM Katie Nowicki in MA
A defeated Mr. Meeseeks telling it how it is by Katie Nowicki in MA.

The show has hilarious and memorable characters such as Rick, Morty, Beth, Jerry, Summer, Bird Person, the Meeseeks, Morty Junior, Evil Rick/Evil Morty, Squanchy, Tammy, Abradolf Lincler, Mr. Poopybutthole, Tiny Rick, and many more!

RM Lu Skywalker at Ink Fusion Empire
Wicked butt tattoo of Rick and Morty by Lu Skywalker at Ink Fusion Empire.
RM Matt Daniels 1
Split Rick and Morty with one of Rick’s inventions by Matt Daniels at Sticky Pop Tattoo in the UK.
RM Matt Daniels UK
Whole bunch of Rick and Morty also by Matt Daniels.
RM Matt Daniels
Tiny Rick also by Matt Daniels.

The show is on its third season after years on hold, making its fans wait a long time for more shenanigans.

RM Mewo Llama in Montreal
Rick and Morty giving a friendly greeting by Mewo Llama in Montreal.
RM Paul Crowther Cardiff
Fart spouting wisdom by Paul Crowther in Cardiff.
RM Raine Knight Second City Tattoo Club Birmingham UK
Cromulon by Raine Knight at Second City Tattoo Club in Birmingham, UK.

Who is your favorite Rick and Morty character?

Deathly Hallows Tattoos:

The Deathly Hallows are three magical objects from the Harry Potter series that together make up a triangular design that when worn shows you are a believer. The three objects are the Elder Wand, a wand made to be unbeatable, The Resurrection Stone, which brings back the dead, and the Cloak of Invisibility which as it says, renders the user completely invisible. The cloak forms a triangle, the stone is a circle within the triangle, and the wand is a straight line within the triangle and circle.

Hallows 1
My own Hallows and quote Done by Carly Montgomery at First String Tattoo in Winnipeg.

The story of the Deathly Hallows is first told in the seventh book. In the story, Death created each of these three items, and gave them to the three Peverell brothers who had outsmarted Death by crossing a river that usually claimed lives. These items were their rewards for outsmarting him. The two eldest brothers had requested the wand and the stonem but both met grisly deaths due to the nature of their magical items. The wand caused Antioch Peverell to gloat, leading him to be killed in his sleep and have the wand stolen, while the stone caused Cadmus Peverell to take his own life after bringing his late wife back from the dead, as she was unable to be happy in the land of the living again. The youngest brother Ignotus Peverell requested Death’s own cloak, and used it to avoid him until he was ready for Death. Ignotus passed the cloak on to his son and from there greeted Death “like an old friend”. This cloak is the very same on that Harry had passed down to him.

hallows Brit Tigera
White Hallows and bright flowers by Brit Tigera.
hallows Felipe Bernardes
Watercolour background with Hallows and hand holding onto the Elder Wand by Felipe Bernardes.
hallows Fulvio Vaccarone
Neo traditional hand with Hogwarts and Hallows by Fulvio Vaccarone at Dark Ink Tattoo Studio in Italy.

Lovers of the Harry Potter series, whether the books or films, have often gotten the Deathly Hallows as a tattoo to show their love of magic. The Deathly Hallows symbol is often paired with quotes or other images such as flowers, Hogwarts, magical creatures, spells, potions, and people’s patronuses.

hallows Helena Darling, Halifax Nova Scotia
Brightly coloured Hogwarts in a globe with Hallows by Helena Darling in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
hallows Jack Peppiette
Brilliant geometric patterned back of the neck piece with Hallows by Jack Peppiette at Insider Tattoo in Edinburgh, Scotland.
hallows Mike D Old Rose Tattoo Califirnia
Hallows and American Traditional rose by Mike D. at Old Rose Tattoo in California.
hallows Nichola Pierport at Jays Inks in Lincoln UK.
Blackwork/dotwork tree’s, broomstick, wand, snitch, and Hallows by Nichola Pierport at Jays Inks in Lincoln, UK.
hallows Raul William
Golden snitch, Harry Potter, and Hallows with watercolour background by Raul Willian at Jack Tattoo.
hallows Ryan Murray at Black Veil Tattoo in Salem Ma
Mcgonagall in cat form with Hallows by Ryan Murray at Black Veil Tattoo in Salem, MA.
hallows Ryan Tews
White Hallows and bright watercolour background by Ryan Tews in Calgary, Alberta.
Hallows Twon Egypt
Blackwork Hallows and and Augrey, a magical bird creature that is tattooed on the Character Delphi from Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Done by Twon in Egypt.

“Always” keep the magic alive!

Artist of the Month: Alexander Perry

Alexander Perry works at The Gentlemen Tattoos in Ohio. He specializes in bold, clean American traditional tattoos. His work features a lot of skulls, a lot of roses, and a lot of lady heads.

His work is classic with a bit of a modern touch, with easily recognizable designs, making them visible at a distance.

alex-1
Tiny lady head in profile.
alex-6
Bigger lady head. Lots of red for this one!
alex-13
Classic lady head with a snake and dagger.
alex-7
Blackwork lady head and skully.
alex-5
Spider lady head right on the chrome dome.
alex-14
Don’t fear the reaper!
alex-2
Skull with crown of flowers.
alex-3
Classic Sailor Jerry skull and snake piece.
alex-8
Skull and crossbones.
alex-10
Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil skullies.
alex-15
Classy smoking blackwork skull.
alex-4
Bold rose on the hand.
alex-9
Classic peony.
alex-12
Fun cartoon eyeball.
alex-11
Getting tropical with a parrot, greenery, and a butterfly.

Alex is a must see artist for your traditional needs in Ohio.

 

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