Guest Blog: "The Skuse Family, Batty About Tattooing"
Today, we have Paul Roe of Britishink taking the blog reigns to offer a history lesson and share his own experience becoming part of The Bristol Tattoo Club. A fantastic story.
By Paul Roe:
There has been a tie between British and American tattooing since the very beginning. Techniques, machines and designs have been exchanged and traded for more than a century. One of the oldest international bonds between tattoo artists is still running strong -- The Bristol Tattoo Club -- established in 1953 by the legendary Les Skuse.
Les Skuse started tattooing under the guidance of Joseph Hartley in Bristol,1928, and tattooed tens of thousands of people around the world until his death in 1973. In 1956, he was invited to Sandusky, Ohio by Al Schiefley. Invitations were sent out to the Sandusky Tattoo Club Members all over America and the first American tattoo convention took place on September 8th and 9th, 1956. In attendance were Paul Rogers, DC Paul, Milton Zeis, Huck Spaulding and many more.
The list of Bristol Tattoo Club members reads like a list of who's who in the world of tattooing: Norman Collins, Paul Rogers, Milton Zeis, Leslie Burchett, Ron Ackers, Cash Cooper, Jessie Knight, Lone Wolf, Jack Zeek, Jock Liddle, Doc. Forbes, Doc. Webb, Lyle Tuttle ... on and on and on. The purpose of the club was to bring together the artists. In the words of Les:
I have always been ready and willing to learn, never thinking I knew it all and continually searching for ways in which to improve my work and equipment. It is my firm belief that the more tattooists meet, correspond and exchange ideas, the better it will be both for the individual and the profession.Danny Skuse took over the presidency of the club after Les passed and the mantle has now fallen to Jimmie Skuse, the third-generation Skuse to tattoo in Bristol.
So in August this year, I made the pilgrimage from Washington DC where I run Britishink Tattoos back to my home country, back to Bristol to receive the BTC "bat" tattoo. It is customary to bring gifts of vintage tattoo related items to add to Jimmie's collection and I came prepared even donating a custom made machine, which will be included in the BTC tattoo machine poster available later this year.
The logo of the club is a bat with the letters BTC around it. This tattoo is on about twenty people alive today and was on the arms of all those legends before me. I was honored to be included in such a group, to be tattooed by a Skuse family member, to spend the afternoon sitting on the floor with Jimmie bringing out historic machine after historic machine from his museum collection: Hartley machines -- I have only seen a photo of one once and here are seven in my lap. George Burchett machines, Paul Rogers, Sailor Jerry, Percy Waters ... I was the proverbial kid in the candy store. The best was saved till last, the Edison Autographic Printing Device -- the device on which Samuel O'Reilly based the first electric tattoo machine in 1891. [The Smithsonian doesn't even have one of these.] It was tiny, perfect and exquisitely made.
And so to the tattoo, with the question: "Do you want me to make a new stencil or do you want me to use one from Les?" The sentence wasn't finished and I cut him off -- of course the original stencil. How many arms had this been used on? How many of my heroes had this touched? Now the faint impression was on my arm and Jimmies machine buzzed. It was quick, painless and suddenly I was a fully fledged member.
We chatted and made dinner arrangements for that night; after a slap-up meal, champagne and toasts we walked Jimmie and his lovely wife Jackie to the car to say goodbye, he handed me an envelope. "Don't look at it until you get back to your room. You was looking at it today, and I think you should have it." We said our goodbyes.
Back in the hotel room I found an acetate from Christian Warlich (the only tattooist in Third Reich Germany) tucked in the envelope. Jimmie is a true gentleman and I can now say a good friend.
Jimmie Skuse Tattooing Paul Roe.
The next day we traveled back to my home town of Norwich for the Body Art Festival and had a very successful convention with close friends and made many, many more. In eight days in England, hanging out with hundreds of artists and thousands of tattoo enthusiasts, I did not hear the term "tattooer" once. The British term "tattooist" is suitable and dignified, applicable to all.
When I returned to Washington DC, there was an announcement on the BTC Facebook group stating that, for the first time in the club's history, a British Ambassador was appointed to the United States, an Englishman who could apply the official BTC bat tattoo to those members on this side of the Atlantic: Mr. Paul Roe of Washington DC. I am humbled and elated to receive such a great honor.
The membership continues to grow. Tattooists are applying and our ranks swell. Current members include John Black, Dana Brunson, Scott Sterling, Shane Enholm, Todd Hlavaty, Seth Ciferri and many more. Jimmie Skuse will be producing some collectibles for purchase including the a fore mentioned tattoo machine poster and a series of flash books of the current members' artwork.
It is important to me to know and understand the history of this craft. It is even more important that the history of tattooing is in the hands of a group of dedicated professionals who will tend it, grow it and pass it on to generations to come --The Bristol Tattoo Club.
Information, history and a great set of pictures are available at Lesskusetattoos.co.uk.
Jimmie can be reached on Facebook as well.
Paul Roe -- Anglo-Romany, tattoo historian and artist -- has been tattooing since 1998 in Washington DC. For more from Paul, check www.britishinkdc.com and www.tattoodles.com.