FLO's 2 BITS Issue #3

September 2019

Well it’s that time again. 😄😄 I left off with the end of the July 1, 1985-June 30, 1986 which means we now start with the July/August 1986 issue.

Serpentina, from Miami, Florida was the cover photo circa 1945. She was tattooed to look like a serpent which is why she was called Serpentina. 😄😄

One of our featured artists was: Ardee Allen who started out in Fargo, North Dakota and who apprenticed under Hopie Qual. She received her first, second and third tattoos from three well known NY & NJ tattooists – they were Mike Bakaty of NYC, Lola Esperian then of N.J. and Len Weber also of N.J.

In 1983, Ardee opened her own studio called “Skin Works Tattoo Studio” in Fargo, ND. She said she was so grateful to Don Nolan who advised her on color technique and for inspiring her with his own willingness to grow.

In January of 1986 she decided to move to California and got a job working for Pati Pavlik. She enjoyed working with Pati and the rest of the staff so much she decided to stay there and sold her shop in Fargo. Ardee told me, and I quote: “I think it takes a hunger for knowledge, a big conscience, a love for art and a blooming soul for an individual to be a true success in the art of tattooing” unquote.

Another featured artist then was: Sherry (then Redding) now Sears of Des Moines, Iowa since 1981. Years ago when the scare of Aids and tattoos was big news she was interviewed by one of her local news teams. They were interviewing and filming people that used rubber gloves in their professions. Sherry said she had all the facts about tattooing and aids and the fact that no case of aids was ever really linked to tattooing. They also interviewed and filmed doctors and dentists for their newscast.

The third featured artist was: “Mr. Bill” Adams whose studio was right here in Northampton, PA.  Mr. Bill began an apprenticeship with Bruce Reiss in Galveston, TX. in 1976 after being laid off from his job at that time.  After a few years, he returned to PA in 1979 to open his own studio called “Skin Flix Tattooing” and the rest is history.

And this was the first issue that we had a column from our then President, Terry Wrigley. Terry wrote a column for our newsletters from that issue until his death.

We also had a centerfold photo in full color in this issue of Susan James of London, England who was the winner of the Best Tattooed Female in Reno 1981 and then with additional work she won again in Philly in 1984. All her tattoo work was done by Ed Hardy and Cliff Raven.

And… Chuck Eldridge had his column “Tattoo Archive” printed upon separate pages from the newsletter as it was 6 pages and wouldn’t fit. It was titled “The History of U.S. Suppliers” Article #18 from his files. This article was very interesting and perhaps Chuck will give me permission to run it again for all of you – that is if you’d be interested in seeing it again or for the first time if you weren’t with us in July 1986. Let me know.

We also had some old time photos in this issue too of Danny Danzl & Brooklyn Pete from 1942, one of Paul Rogers. Sailor Ned and Helen Rogers at Kitty Hawk, N.C., a photo of the store front of Coleman’s shop in Norfolk, VA. From 1948, and a photo of a painting done of Tatts Thomas tattooing Loretta Lynch done in the 1950’5 by Ralph Johnson. And the back cover had two black/white photos from Dianne Mansfield of Danny Danzl & Sailor Ned. This issue was 20 pages including the covers that’s why we had to put Chuck’s column separately.

The next issue was our Sept. /Oct. 1986 issue and the front cover had a photo of George “Doc” Webb of San Diego, California on it. I’d like to reprint the story on Doc here. I’m not sure if the photos will be clear enough but we’ll give it a go. [No photos are included.--Ed.]

Doc Webb – A Reminiscence by Don Ed Hardy.

In late 1962 I almost got my first professional tattoo from Doc Webb. A friend and I were in San Diego cruising around and decided to check out the tattoo parlors. For the past 4 or 5 years tattooing had dropped out of my range of interest, after drawing designs and studying the subject at Bert Grimm’s in Long Beach, 1955-58.

In ’62 Doc was operating in a building facing Horton Plaza in the heart of downtown San Diego. His shop was on the mezzanine above a ground floor magic and joke shop. The shop was featured in a good article in one of the “men’s adventure” magazines (True or Argosy) around that time, with pictures of Doc and “Iwo Jima” Eddie, who worked for him. Eddie had some great tattoo work on him by Ralph  Johnstone of Chicago, including the Flag Raising at Iwo Jima on his back (from the famed WWII photo), and a portrait of Marilyn Monroe on his stomach.

Though Doc’s style of flash seemed cartoony and out of the mainstream Americana look I’d become familiar with at Grimm’s, he was so friendly and the studio so clean and reassuring that it seemed a good time to really get that tattoo I’d dreamed of as a kid. I picked out a black widow spider and was in the chair when Doc asked me for ID. Being 17, a year under the state limit, I had to pull the, “Gee, I left it in the car”, routine as believably as I could and back out gracefully.

The next time I saw Doc was in 1967. He had moved down to 850 Fourth Ave., his primary on-street location, a block off the plaza. I was finishing up art school & tattooing friends on the back porch of my San Francisco flat, with the guidance of Phil Sparrow, who was tattooing in Oakland at the time. By then I was wearing a few tattoos and on a trip around Southern California to check out the operations in Long Beach and San Diego. Doc’s wife, Carol, was working the floor for him, and they were both friendly. Doc assured me that a seaport town was the best choice for location, although San Diego was slow at the time and that he couldn’t use any help. I was aiming to move to Vancouver, B.C. anyway and he gave me a few tips about the scene there.

In January of ’69, I was headed back down to San Diego after not quite a year of tattooing in the Northwest. Despite booming business, I’d given up my Vancouver shop for the opportunity to work for Zeke Owen in Seattle. The four months with Zeke taught me a lot, but led into the area’s worst winter in 17 years. After several weeks of near zero business, I packed up my wife and 2 year old son and fled back down south. I wasn’t really prepared for the ups and downs of life in tattooing despite Zeke’s assurances the biz would pick up.

I’d hoped to land a spot at Bert Grimm’s, the shop that originally inspired me. But, I was very green and all three shops on the Long Beach Pike were full. Don Nolan‘s stepbrother , “Hong Kong” Tom Yeomans, a brilliant tattooer who had the lead chair at Grimm’s, had done some beautiful work on my forearm the year before. He assured me that San Diego was the place to be and Doc Webb the man to see. Tom took me down to Doc’s one sunny afternoon and formally introduced us. I showed him some of my flash and described my experience to date, and the job was mine.

Doc was still tattooing alone, with Carol’s help working the floor. He only worked from 4 to 8pm with Sunday’s off; during that time he was usually busy straight through. The shop was a subdivided space running down the side wall of a movie theater with a shallow 5’ deep waiting room about 15’ wide. A narrow back room ran behind the wall of flash and the work area, about 6’ x 6’, and looked straight into the waiting room. A chain ran across the door to the work space instead of the traditional “dummy rail”. The door could be shut for private work. Doc had customized a beautician’s chair to go flat for body work. Everything was immaculate; the walls and all the fixtures in the work area were kept polished and the whole place brightly lit. Doc had big display windows on the street running the width of the shop and these were filled with a collection of memorabilia and oddities designed to make people stop and look; not just tattoo material, but a fun house mirror, photos of circus personages Doc had known, and unusual objects from different parts of the world. Doc knew how to get people’s attention and impress them with a sense of life’s mystery and uniqueness. The flash inside the shop was all uniformly framed behind glass and covered the 8’ partition walls to the floor. Designs were not separated by theme on each sheet, but painted in a mixed format so customers would look over everything to find what they thought they were after.

Doc’s drawing style was definitely outside the mainstream tradition, more influenced by caricature, “Chalk talk” and the theater show-card style that he’d learned as a sign painter in the 30’s and 40’s. Various signs with jokes and cracker barrel philosophy relating to tattoos, lettered by Doc, were scattered among the flash.

Doc was always cheerful, polite and never pushy, Mrs. Webb had a tidy, dignified, grandmotherly look about her that immediately reassured the young sailors and marines that made up about 95% of the clientele. Most of these guys were just out of boot camp and very insecure, though none would dare admit it. The cleanliness, openness and general civility of “Old Doc” Webb’s place was a big attraction. A lot of the fear of going through the mystic ritual of the first tattoo was dispelled under these conditions. Drunks were expertly and good-naturedly talked out of the shop and a sign proclaimed: “No Filthy Language -- Ladies Present” While the combination of a tattoo parlor with a milk and cookies atmosphere seemed incongruous at first, it worked. The creation of a space that was clean, homey and conducted with dignity – without being lifeless – seemed to automatically trigger generally decent behavior from the people coming in. On the other hand, Doc was no wimp – he had been a professional wrestler and obviously would back up the general house rules.

There were only 3 tattoo shops in San Diego at that time: Painless Nell” Bowen, her sister and an old guy named Cliff operated out of a space in the rear of a penny arcade on Broadway (the main drag) a block from the bus station. This shop is now Ace Tattoo Co., renamed when Zeke Owen took over the space after Nell’s death in 1971. Though a tidy physical place, painted white as required by the San Diego Health Department, Painless Nell’s didn’t have much character to it. In fact it was literally run as a sponge and bucket shop (washing off the tattooed area with the same sponge and dirty water) until Nell died. It was a real throwback to the 40’s, the era when Nell opened the place. On the other side of Broadway, opposite the Greyhound Bus Station, “Tahiti Felix” Lynch had his place. Same white walls and lack of individuality as Nell’s, though each of the 3 work stations actually were equipped with sinks. Nobody changed tubes and needles, or pots of ink for each job. All the pigment was kept in cold cream jars on the table and naturally the yellow (used sparingly those days) looked pretty brown from all the blood being dipped back in it. Best feature  of Felix’s was southpaw Al Miller, the fastest tattooer I’d ever seen, and a freehand whiz, but both shops on Broadway were more like fast-food process setups, designed to get ‘em in and get ‘em out. While Doc’s was definitely a no-nonsense business all the way, his personalized approach in décor and attitude made a marked contrast to the servicemen.

I went to work on a split shift around Doc’s – noon to 4 and then again from 8 to midnight, with Sunday and Monday off. Soon I was using Sundays for the custom work I was eager to build, creating Japanese inspired fill and body work for $5 an hour, just for the chance to do it.

Doc believed in 5 needle outlines and good heavy shading, to make a design that would stand out on the skin. I agreed, though our basic design sense differed.. He could see I was a bit too eager to “Rembrandt”, as the term went. Zeke had already busted my chops good for trying to run before I could walk and San Diego, with droves of servicemen ready for standard tattoos every week was a perfect training ground. I’d come out of art school with a smug certainty that I could run rings around other tattooers, but the difficulties of both machines and deceptive simplicity of good strong tattoo design style knocked a lot of humility into me quick.

At that time Doc, like everyone else, was using a palette of black, red & green with a touch of yellow and brown for some pieces. Blue and white were occasionally used for accent. However, Doc did utilize such standout sign painter’s tricks as a red “halo” around a design on the skin to cast shadows, to add to the drama of the piece. He was a distinctive stylist. But I was color crazy, after seeing photos of the astonishing work Sailor Jerry was doing in Honolulu. Zeke, Hong Kong Tom and Don Nolan were doing work along the same lines, inspired by Jerry: these few men were creating the look of modern tattooing as we know it. I was certain this was a tattoo revolution, and what I had got into the business to pursue. I had a little bottle of Jerry’s purple Zeke had given me (the only tattooers in the world with that color at that time) and I began to load up the standard designs with as much shaded colors & frosting as I could get away with. Some of this grated a bit with the Webb’s and Doc let me know I could develop my own style and give ‘em a fine job as long as it did not interfere with the basic production. Or, by implication of course, give the customers a lot for nothing and screw things up for everyone else.

During Doc’s shift he would tattoo as many as he could and Mrs. Webb would take advance orders as well, for my night shift. Often I’d come back from dinner to start in again at 8 to find receipts for enough tattoos, with stencils laid out, to take me to midnight. The servicemen would have prepaid, with a time to return noted on the receipt based on Mrs. Webb’s estimate of how long each job would take me. Sometimes my copy of the receipt would say: “Peacock -- $12 – NO PURPLE!” Naturally what I saw as an attempt to quench my artistic fires was irritating but did help me to learn to tattoo very fast. I was determined to make ’em look the way I wanted and still get by on schedule.

Prices at Doc’s were quite low even for the time – about 1/3 less than what Zeke was getting in Seattle, 2/3 or 3/4 less than the east Coast work – but Doc’s attitude was that he would rather be busy while he was in there than sit and snare 1 or 2 big jobs. Of course it helped to  keep the sailors flowing in who were price comparing. To many of them, a panther was a panther, and if it was $3 less than the shop up the street that settled it.

Doc’s design style didn’t exactly suit me, but he recognized individuality and realized I had the drawing ability to come up with my own variants of most of the designs. Stencils at the shop were all shallow cut with an electric engraver & made terrible impressions on the skin. He usually touched up each stencil print with a glass tipped pen dipped in the tattoo ink, before starting the actual outline. This enhanced the one of a kind aspect of his work as well. The need to alter this rough target developed my ability to free hand and adjust as I went, out of necessity.

Other things chafed me during the 2 years I worked for Doc. Their insistence I get a near military length haircut every two weeks. Keep a tight trim on my mustache and high polish on my shoes cramped what I saw as my “free spirit”. The heavily starched white coats we changed every day at the Health Department’s insistence (butcher’s coats, to my mind) helped complete a straightjacket of rules I did not think was absolutely essential to producing good tattoos. Of course the spotless appearance of the shop and hygienic work procedures (we were the only shop in the area autoclaving tools and using single service color cups) were the only way to go.

I eventually opened my own shop in San Diego, in 1971, let my hair and mustache grow and switched to the pastel zippered barbers’ smocks more befitting a “boss young dude” of the era. I was grateful for the two years of work at Doc’s but very ready to re-establish my own identity. It took a while to realize the valuable things I learned working in his operation: a combination of professionalism with humanity, running a shop was that immaculate but that had a sense of humor. Above all, Doc was fiercely proud of his individuality, one of the things tattoos are all about. One sign he had up simply said: “Diff’rent! Old Doc Webb’s”. The crazy style he’s developed was just that, and today I can appreciate his determination to not be another “rubber stamp” tattooer.

I didn’t see Doc for nearly 10 years, and when we both began showing up at National’s conventions I was glad to have had the opportunity to thank him for his example during those years, ’69-71.  His easygoing lifestyle, wise council of keeping low overhead on your business, and plenty of time to kick back and appreciate the rest of the world – were a fine example to anyone in this business or any other. He has been through a rough and tumble life with ups and downs and could truly appreciate the opportunities tattooing can give a person. He tried, in his own words, to put plenty back into the business that had given him so much. As a gentleman and tattoo “character” with a lot of positive energy, he’ll be missed by us all.

Flo’s note: Remember – Ed wrote that back in 1986 – a Lot has changed since then.

We also featured : Tattoo Fred Hensing of Dover Delaware in this issue and there was a nice photo of Paul Rogers on the back cover courtesy of Dianne Mansfield.

I had intended to tell some more stories of some of the things I remember from years ago at the NTA conventions – but – it seems since I wanted to enclose Ed’s story on how it was working for Old Doc Webb I took up a lot of space this time haha

But here is just one of them – Barry Louvaine of London, England naturally had an English accent – however it was a very strong, and I believe, what was called a cockney accent – one of which when he spoke to you, because Americans do not speak that kind of English 😄😄, you really could not understand him. But… Barry used to watch John Wayne movies and could imitate him to a T so when you couldn’t understand what he was saying you had to tell him to say it like John Wayne would. Haha So he would imitate John Wayne and you could have a conversation with him then.

And one more was Tattoo Ole Hansen, from Copenhagen, Denmark. Now Ole spoke with a strong Danish accent and you couldn’t understand him either – that is till he had a few drinks. Yes that’s what I said – until he had a few drinks – in fact the more he drank the clearer his English got. Which is why that is so funny to me usually when a person has had a few drinks they start to slur their words so you can’t understand them – with Ole the more he drank the better you could understand him 😄😄

Well this’s it for now, in my next column I want to talk about the people who were instrumental in turning the National Tattoo Club of the World into the non-profit organization that eventually became the NTA. Those people were the crew of the Peter Tat 2 Studio’s. So I’m asking those of you out there who were a part of that crew to please email me at: Flo@nationaltattoo.com so I can bring my files up to date as to what you are all doing now, as we have lost touch with some of you and I’d like to include you here too as you were a big part of the forming of the NTA..