American-Style Dragon, 1966

I’ve wanted to start this project since before I started my apprenticeship. Lots of books and documentaries have been released in recent years about traditional tattoos and tattooing, but I feel like the stories behind the actual tattoos are disappearing with their wearers. No, I’m not thinking “nursing home LA Ink”, but just where did you get this, when, by who, what did it mean, what did it cost you, what was it like? I think there’s a lot to be learned about tattoo history from the people who wear them. I used to be too scared to approach people and ask them about their tattoos (what if they regret them? what if they are cranky?) but people do it to me all the time, and now that I have a fancy business card and some tattooing experience to back myself up, I feel more comfortable.

Please excuse the poor picture quality, I took this on the fly with my phone as I didn’t have the camera with me. I met this gentleman at the Gino’s meat counter, where I was buying a stuffed porkchop and some chicken quarters for my darling carnivores. I asked him about his tattoo and he was glad to tell me about it. This was done at Painless Al’s in Buffalo, New York in 1966, by Painless Al (Straussman? Strozman?) himself. The wearer was 16 years old at the time. He says that he designed it himself, and there used to be a yellow sun in the background as well as red shading all around the dragon. He also wanted me to know that usually it looks much better, but he was bruised up by some recent gardening mishaps. The lettering at the top says “Red”.

If anyone has information about Painless Al from Buffalo, or knows any wearers of “antique” tattoos that might like to talk to me, please send them my way.


About Kristyn Michele Bat

Teacher, tattooer, artist.

One comment

  1. Did you offer to touch it up for him? 🙂

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