Results tagged “Solid State Tattoo”

Jul201303
09:01 AM
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Today is the opening of the Milwaukee Art Museum's first-ever tattoo art exhibition:
"Tattoo: Flash Art of Amund Dietzel." The exhibit, which runs to the Fall, celebrates one of tattooing's most remarkable forefathers, particularly the one hundred years since the Norwegian artist arrived in Milwaukee in 1913 and made it his home.

Dietzel's studios attracted tattoo collectors far beyond Milwaukee. As the Museum notes, he "helped define the look of the traditional or old school tattoo," and his tattoo flash remains just as powerful today as it was during the two world wars he tattooed through and the many years afterward until his death in 1974.

I'd venture a guess that, if Dietzel were alive today, he'd be having a laugh at the city's museum featuring his work, especially as he put up a good fight against the Milwaukee City Council, along with Gib "Tatts" Thomas, when the city banned tattooing in 1967. 

There are so many great stories of Amund Dietzel's life, and they are wonderfully shared in tattooist
Jon Reiter's book These Old Blue Arms: The Life & Work of Amund Dietzel, which I reviewed here in 2010. 

This exhibit is drawn exclusively from the book and Jon's collection of Dietzel flash, photos and "peripheral Dietzel Studio material." It should be an excellent show for all tattoo lovers and Americana art buffs.

Here's more on Dietzel from the museum:

Born in Kristiania, Norway, Dietzel (1891-1974) learned the art of hand-tattooing on a Norway merchant ship. When the ship was wrecked off the coast of Quebec, Dietzel and a few others decided to stay. Dietzel traveled with his close friend William Grimshaw, working carnivals as tattooed men and tattooing between shows.

Passing through Milwaukee at twenty-three, Dietzel decided to make the city his home. He opened a tattoo parlor and soon had a reputation as the region's premier tattoo artist--and the one to whom World War I and II sailors and Marines went before leaving for battle. In 1964 at the age of seventy-three, Dietzel sold his shop to his friend Gib "Tatts" Thomas. The two worked together in the studio until the city banned tattooing, effective July 1, 1967. "At least it took the city fifty-one years to find out that it doesn't want me," said Dietzel.

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Aug201031
01:52 PM
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I'll begin simply by saying that These Old Blue Arms: The Life & Work of Amund Dietzel is a bookshelf mandate for lovers of tattoo art and culture. Written by Jon Reiter of Solid State Tattoo in Milwaukee, it not only captures a legend but the richness of tattoo Americana.

Last month, Patrick posted a preview of the book, and over vacation, I made it my essential reading -- although not beach reading as I didn't want to risk damaging the 200-page hardcover. While I devoured the entire book in just a few hours, its resonance is long lasting. It is in one volume a book of history, artistic reference, and tattoo lore as well as a meticulously researched biography.

As Fred Stonehouse says in the Foreword, Jon Reiter has made it his mission to "clarify much of the shadowy information" surrounding Dietzel. Reiter cites the Norwegian National Archives to early US newspapers to direct quotes from Dietzel's grandson to paint a picture of a man deemed "one of the last true gentleman tattooers."

The book begins with a short introduction to Dietzel's family life, illustrated by photos from the late 1800s and beyond. We learn that he went to sea at the age of 14 and got his first tattoo--an anchor on his hand--when he docked in Southern Wales in 1907. It was aboard the Augusta later that year when he started his 60+year tattoo career with "six needles bound with cotton and set in a block of wood."

More than tattoo facts, the book tells stories of alleged ship wrecks, war time tattoo culture, and carny life--where Dietzel spent a good portion of his career tattooing and as a "Tattooed Man" sideshow performer. It also shows Dietzel as an artist constantly seeking to refine his craft, noting that he took art classes at Yale and elsewhere at various times in his life. His artistry is ever-present in the hand-painted flash spreads--these pages alone are worth buying the book. [Reiter also gives some background on the root of the word flash, which is fantastic.]


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A cast of other characters populate the book like William Grimshaw, Thomas Riley, Cliff Raven, Phil Sparrow, Gib "Tatts" Thomas, and Kenneth "Shaky Jake" Jacobs--a villain who tries to put others out of business through badmouthing and even setting up crooked cops outside of competitors' shops to steer away would-be clients. These great stories never detract from Dietzel's work, which attracted tattoo collectors from all over the world to his Milwaukee studios even before tattoo magazines, the Internet and general acceptance of the art, as Reiter notes.

Dietzel retired in 1967 when Milwaukee banned tattooing. He and Tatts, at the ages of 75 and 65, put up a fight at City Council meetings, but they were largely alone in doing so. In 1974, Dietzel died of leukemia, three weeks before his 83rd birthday. His life is illuminated and honored in this excellent book.

You can order it here for $50 plus shipping.

A second installment is in the works and I'll have more on that as it progresses.

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