Fun fact: Did you know that Olive Oyl had a tattoo of Bluto on her ass? That beneath that sexy, painted-on blouse, her breasts were decorated with barbed wire? Popeye, of course, had the more traditional anchor on his overripe forearm, but hidden from view was a dainty butterfly on his left butt cheek. Wimpy had a cow tattooed near his genitals. A unicorn leapt from the small of Bluto's back.
Tattoos shine a spotlight on a person's psyche and reveal a hidden side of her personality. After all, ink lasts forever.
Lyle Tuttle should know. During his long career as a tattoo artist, he injected an ocean of ink into a continent's worth of skin. Tuttle appeared on The Tonight Show, where he was interviewed by Johnny Carson. He tattooed Peter Fonda, Gregg Allman, Cher and Janis Joplin. "I did a bracelet on her wrist and a heart on her titty," he says of his Joplin work. "The bracelet was for everybody, and the heart on her breast was for her friends." Though retired, Tuttle is still one of the art's great ambassadors, and he possesses one of the most extensive collections of tattoo memorabilia in the world.
He brings his traveling show, Lyle Tuttle's Old School Tattoo Expo, to the City Museum this weekend. Tuttle plays host to more than 80 of America's most lauded tattoo artists, and yes, they'll set up booths and commence to inking. The expo is the most extensive and high-profile tattoo convention to ever land in St. Louis.
For fans of obscure St. Louis history, the convention offers video presentations on two of the art's most important historical figures, both of whom have St. Louis connections: Gus Wagner and Bert Grimm. "Gus Wagner tattooed 101 years ago at the St. Louis World's Fair," explains Tuttle, "and appeared here as a tattooed attraction. He called himself the 'Globetrotting Tattoo Artist.'"
Bert Grimm, one of the most revered figures on the American tattoo scene, worked in downtown St. Louis from the late 1920s to the early 1950s. Tuttle and Chuck Eldridge, who runs the Tattoo Archive, examine his life and work.
Seminars are offered for artists, including "Techniques in Portraiture and Black & Grey Photo Realism" and "The Mysteries of Color." And for those itching for a tattoo, artists will be in town from all over America. By his own tradition, Tuttle gives away one free tattoo his autograph per day.
"A tattoo artist in a local town usually has to be a jack-of-all-trades," says tattoo photographer Bill DeMichele, one of the expo's organizers. "But there are certain artists who specialize, and this is a chance to get a tattoo from someone who works in a particular style or lettering. There are people out there who see them in magazines, and think, 'Wow, I love his style. I wish I could get tattooed by him.' Here's an opportunity to get tattooed by them."