Love & Tattoos: The Tattoo Archive on Rockwell's "The Tattoo Artist"

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Love & Tattoos: The Tattoo Archive on Rockwell's "The Tattoo Artist"

By C. W. Eldridge, tattoo historian of Tattoo Archive, Winston-Salem, NC |@LearnReynolda

Norman Rockwell’s paintings were said to have a very personal feel to them. This is probably because they represented a thick slice of Americana. Rockwell was often accused of looking at America through rose-colored glasses, but the public loved it! When Norman Rockwell’s art appeared on the covers of The Saturday Evening Post, newsstand sales soared.
We believe what made his paintings feel so personal was that Rockwell used his friends and neighbors as models. Norman Rockwell worked from photographs and went to great lengths to pose these photographs with his local community. In his studios in New Rochelle, New York, Arlington, Vermont and later Stockbridge, Massachusetts Rockwell was surrounded by artists, many of them working for the same magazines as Rockwell. These artists and other neighbors were always glad to help Rockwell construct these photographs, and it became a bit of civic pride when they would see themselves in his paintings.

On March 4, 1944 The Tattoo Artist, (also known as The Tattooist) was featured on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post. As with many of Rockwell’s paintings there was a good-natured joke built into them and The Tattoo Artist was no exception. The painting shows the tattooist, Mead Schaeffer, with disheveled hair, soiled pants and house slippers tattooing yet another name on the sailor’s well-worn arm. The sailor, Clarence Decker, is adding to his collection of women’s names on his upper arm. Sadie, Rosietta, Ming Fu, Olga, and Sing Lee all have a black line through their names to let the world know they are history. Below that marked-out list Schaeffer is putting the finishing touches on yet another name, “Betty” the sailor’s new love. The painting not only points out the finicky nature of love but also the permanency of tattooing. Long after these women are in the past, their names are still in the present.


On April 3 Reynolda House will present “Tattoo Night.” Come and listen to tattoo historian C. W. Eldridge, from the Tattoo Archive, decode Norman Rockwell’s famous painting The Tattoo Artist.

Image Credit: Norman Rockwell (American, 1894–1978). The Tattoo Artist, 1944. Oil on canvas, 43 1/8 x 33 1/8 in. (109.5 x 84.1 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of the artist, 69.8


that was really great to read!!

Thanks for sharing!

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