Posts Tagged ‘Charles Eisenmann

09
Apr
22

Photographs: ‘Circus performers in America’

April 2022

 

Chicago Photo Co. 'Ada Zingara (Harriett O. Shipley, 1861-1937)' early 1900s

 

Chicago Photo Co., 389 State Street, Chicago (John B. Wilson, photographer)
Ada Zingara (Harriett O. Shipley, 1861-1937)
early 1900s
Photo-Albumen silver cabinet card
6 1/2 x 4 1/4″

 

A selection of albumen photographs on cabinet cards and cartes de visite of wonderful human beings. I have added biographical and other information about the photographers and subjects where possible.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
All photographs are used under fair use conditions for the purpose of education and teaching. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Obermüller and Kern, 388 Bowery, N.Y. 'Amy Arlington, snake charmer' c. 1880s-1890s

 

Obermüller and Kern, 388 Bowery, N.Y.
Amy Arlington, snake charmer
c. 1880s-1890s
Photo-Albumen silver cabinet card
6 1/2 x 4 1/4″

 

Charles Eisenmann (American, 1855-1927) 'Amy Arlington, snake charmer' c. 1880s-1890s

 

Charles Eisenmann (American, 1855-1927)
Amy Arlington, snake charmer
c. 1880s-1890s
Photo-Albumen silver cabinet card
6 1/2 x 4 1/4″

 

 

About Charles Eisenmann

Charles Eisenmann was an American photographer. His work, which dates from the Victorian-era “Gilded Age” (1870-1890), focused almost exclusively on the “freaks” of the circuses, sideshows, and living museums of New York’s Bowery area. The subject matter was profitable enough to provide a living for both Eisenmann and Frank Wendt, his successor in the business.

Eisenmann was born in Germany in 1850 and emigrated to the United States some time before 1870, settling in New York City. At an early age, Eisenmann established a photography studio in the Bowery. A lower class area that was the hub of popular entertainment, the Bowery was known for its cheap photographic galleries and dime museums. Here Eisenmann discovered his clientele. Dime museums were modelled on P.T. Barnum‘s American Museum on Broadway which exhibited various human “curiosities” as well as many unusual and questionable “scientific” exhibits. Similar in many respects to the circus sideshows, these museums featured human “freaks” who displayed their odd physiognomies and performed before gawking visitors. To help these performers market themselves, Eisenmann and his successor Frank Wendt supplied them with small photographs that they could sell or distribute to publicists. Precisely why Eisenmann was drawn to and focused on this peculiar clientele is not known, though there was evidently money to be made.

Among Eisenmann’s subjects were the famous as well as obscure. They included the “father” of the sideshow, P. T. Barnum, and performers like General Tom Thumb, Jo Jo the Dog-faced Boy, the Wild Men of Borneo, Annie Jones the Bearded Lady, and the Skeleton Man. He also photographed Siamese twins, giants, dwarfs, armless and legless “wonders,” albinos, tattoo artists, and even abnormal animals, such as two-headed cows. While many of these “freaks” were genuine, many were not, having been created out of the imagination and costuming talents of sideshow managers.

Eisenmann’s career in New York began to decline around 1890, and in 1899 he relocated to Plainfield, New Jersey. Wendt joined Eisenmann during this period, at first becoming his business partner, and then son-in-law. Around this same time the warm-toned albumen print process began to disappear, and to be replaced by the cooler silver gelatin process. The change in process did not favour Eisenmann’s techniques. …

The verso of many of Eisenmann’s photographs contained his characteristic tagline, “extra inducements to the theatrical profession,” which reflected the emphasis he placed on his primary clientele.

Anonymous text. “Ronald G. Becker Collection of Charles Eisenmann Photographs,” on the Syracuse University Library website 1998 updated 2016 [Online] Cited 02/04/2022

 

Charles Eisenmann (American, 1855-1927) 'Amy Arlington, snake charmer' c. 1880s-1890s

 

Charles Eisenmann (American, 1855-1927)
Amy Arlington, snake charmer
c. 1880s-1890s
Photo-Albumen silver cabinet card
6 1/2 x 4 1/4″

 

 

Serpent Queens

Snake charming was another speciality that moved from being an almost exclusively male occupation to domination by women. In fact, as snake charming and handling moved into the twentieth century it became almost exclusively a female calling.

Large exotic snakes were exhibited in early museums, and the 1876 and 1893 world fairs imported male snake charmers as part of native villages. During the last two decades of the nineteenth century, when demand for freaks was so high, people, especially partially clad and exotic-looking women, handling or “charming” boas, anacondas, rattlers, cobras, and other serpents became common freak show fare.

Snake charmers – or serpent enchantresses, as they were also called – were, like tattooed persons and Circassians, easy to come by. Although there were tricks to make large snakes lethargic and poisonous snakes benign, some acts contained a distinct elements of danger. For the most part, however, snake charming involved little skill and, aside from the ability to master repulsion and fear, few personal qualifications. There was a seemingly unending supply of charmers – more charmers than snakes by far. Indeed, the cost and supply of snakes was a bigger factor in controlling the number of acts than the number of applicants. While charmers became commonplace and never demanded the high salaries of featured attractions, there was always a place for them on the platform. Audiences continued to squirm in delighted disgust year after year, and, as with human art galleries, innovation provided a continuous element of novelty. After Circassians became commonplace, there were Circassian snake-charmers. In search of novelty, one man wrestled pythons in a five-hundred-gallon tank. Although the types and number of snakes the charmer worked with provided some variety as well, the most important element of the exhibit was the presentation.

There were snake charmers and serpent queens who claimed to be from the East, having learned their skill through apprenticeship to mystics. Others claimed to be born with serpent power. Even though a few who practiced the art probably were from India and other far-off places, most were homegrown Americans…

Whether a domestic exotic or an import, one’s story and stage presence were important elements of success. The difference between a fill-in and an attraction was ingenuity and flair. But most snake charmers were minor attractions, and we know very little about the women around whom the snakes wrapped themselves. A few, however, like Amy Arlington who as with Barnum and Bailey in the 1890s, left many photo portraits of themselves entwined by serpents. Some “true life” booklets are preserved, and, although less elaborate and sophisticated than those of featured stars, they do provide a glimpse of their presentation – a presentation in the high exotic mode.

Robert Bogdan. Freak Show: Presenting Human Oddities for Amusement and Profit. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1988, pp. 256-258

 

Charles Eisenmann (American, 1855-1927) 'Charles B. Tripp "Armless Wonder"' 1888

 

Charles Eisenmann (American, 1855-1927), New York
Charles B. Tripp “Armless Wonder” (33 years old)
1888
Photo-Albumen silver cabinet card
6 1/2 x 4 1/4″

 

Albumen print on original studio mount features the armless Tripp drinking tea with his feet. Notice the date “1888” near Tripp’s right foot.

 

 

Charles B. Tripp (Canadian-American, 1855-1930) was an artist and sideshow performer known as the “Armless Wonder”.

A native of Woodstock, Ontario, Tripp was born without arms but learned to use his legs and feet to perform everyday tasks. He was a skilled carpenter and calligrapher and started supporting his mother and sister when he was a teenager. In 1872, Tripp visited P. T. Barnum in New York City and was quickly hired to work for Barnum’s Great Traveling World’s Fair. He worked for Barnum (and later James Anthony Bailey) for twenty-three years, then toured for the Ringling brothers for twelve years.

On stage, Tripp cultivated a gentlemanly persona and exhibited his skills in carpentry and penmanship. He also cut paper, took photographs, shaved, and painted portraits. For extra income, he signed promotional pictures of himself with his feet. Tripp often appeared in photographs with Eli Bowen, a “legless wonder” from Ohio. In the photographs, the two rode a tandem bicycle, with Tripp pedalling and Bowen steering.

By the 1910s, Tripp was no longer drawing large crowds for the major circuses, so he joined the traveling carnival circuit. He was accompanied by his wife, Mae, who sold tickets for midway attractions. Tripp died of pneumonia (or asthma) in Salisbury, North Carolina, where he had been wintering for several years. He was buried in Olney, Illinois.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Charles Eisenmann

Charles Eisenmann (October 5, 1855 – December 8, 1927) was a famous New York photographer during the late 1880s who worked in the Bowery district.

Eisenmann’s photography was sold in the form of Cabinet cards, popular in this era, available to the middle class. Eisenmann also supplied Duke Tobacco Company with cheesecake photography to stuff in their tobacco cans. The book Victorian Cartes-de-Visite credits Eisenmann with being the most prolific and well known photographer when it comes to Cabinet cards.

His work was the subject of a 1979 monograph, Monsters of the Gilded Age, focusing on his work on human oddities from the Barnum and Bailey circus, with a notable widely circulated picture of Jojo the Dog-faced Boy. Although a number of his photographs were of obvious fakes (called “gaffed freaks”), many others were genuinely anomalous, including the giant Routh Goshen, the four-legged girl Myrtle Corbin, and the Siamese twins Chang and Eng and Millie and Christine. …

 

Humbugs

In his book, Secrets of the Sideshows, Joe Nickell points out that Eisenmann used a number of notable humbugs or gaffs. These included his “Circassian beauties”, women with teased, large hairdos who were said to have escaped from Turkish harems. The models were locals from the Bronx with hair made frizzy and wild by washing in beer, who earned money for posing. …

 

Victorian society and circus freaks

In the late 1880s, A new phenomenon appeared with Victorian society’s fascination and sympathy for people who appeared to have genetic abnormalities. There was much publicity, for example, over Princess Alexandra’s attention to Joseph Merrick, the “Elephant Man.”

Eisenmann saw the golden opportunity in this fascination, and photographed circus people dressed as Victorian society, and conversely Victorian society with circus props. In New York city circus people were quite well received, as evidenced by the proliferation of dime museums and the PT Barnum circus located in New York.

One of Eisenmann’s subjects, Charles Stratton (Major Tom Thumb) was quite well known, and his wedding was quite the affair. “The couple’s elaborate wedding took place in Grace Episcopal Church in New York City. The Astors and the Vanderbilts were said to have attended as Barnum sold tickets for $75.”

Other prestigious clients included Mark Twain, and Annie Oakley. In some ways Eisenmann can be considered a kind of Annie Leibovitz of the Victorian Bowery district. His career suffered a downturn with the introduction of Gelatin silver process photography which made photographs more inexpensive and available for mass consumption. Also, Vaudeville overtook circuses in popularity at this time as well. In 1898 Eisenmann closed his studio and was succeeded by Frank Wendt. Frank was a sort of intern of his. For a few years, he sold photographic equipment and took conventional portraits in Plainfield, New Jersey but by 1907 he had disappeared from the public record, some believing he went to Germany. This was the second time he went off the radar, the first time being when his first wife died. At that time he was believed to have gone to Asia.

Eventually, in the early 1900s, he resurfaced as the head of the photography department for DuPont taking pictures of employees. He died in 1927.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Charles Eisenmann (American, 1855-1927) 'Miss Delina Rossa (age 28)' c. 1880s

 

Charles Eisenmann (American, 1855-1927), New York
Miss Delina Rossa (age 28)
c. 1880s
Photo-Albumen silver cartes de visite
4 1/4 x 2 1/2″

 

Rossa is presumed from Paris, as one photo of her is marked “born in Paris” but nothing much else is known about her.

 

Unknown photographer (American). 'Mademoiselle Zana, The only Bearded Russian Lady, 20 years of age' c. 1880s

 

Unknown photographer (American)
Mademoiselle Zana, The only Bearded Russian Lady, 20 years of age
c. 1880s
Photo-Albumen silver cartes de visite
4 1/4 x 2 1/2″

 

Unknown photographer (American). "Bearded Girl and her Mother" c. 1880s

 

Unknown photographer (American)
“Bearded Girl and her Mother”
c. 1880s
Photo-Albumen silver cartes de visite
4 1/4 x 2 1/2″

 

Charles Eisenmann (American, 1855-1927), New York Frank Wendt (American, 1858-1930), New York. 'Waino and Plutano "The Wild Men of Borneo" (60-70 years old)' c. 1880s

 

Charles Eisenmann (American, 1855-1927), New York
Frank Wendt (American, 1858-1930), New York
Waino and Plutano “The Wild Men of Borneo” (60-70 years old)
c. 1880s
Photo-Albumen silver cabinet cards
Image: 5 1/2 x 3 7/8 in. (14 x 9.8cm)
Mount: 6 1/2 x 4 1/4 in. (16.5 x 10.8cm)

 

 

Wild Men of Borneo

The Wild Men of Borneo, Waino and Plutanor, were a pair of exceptionally strong dwarf brothers who were most famously associated with P. T. Barnum and his freak show exhibitions.

 

Life

Waino and Plutanor were actually Hiram W. and Barney Davis, two mentally disabled brothers from Pleasant Township, Knox County, Ohio farm, born in 1825 in England and 1827 in Ohio respectively. The 1850 census for them suggests they were born slightly later in 1829 and 1831. Their parents were David Harrison Davis and Catherine Blydenburgh. After their father’s death in 1842, their mother remarried to William Porter. They were each 40 inches tall (100cm) and weighed about 45 pounds (20kg), yet could perform feats of great strength such as lifting heavy weights and wrestling with audience members on stage. Discovered and subsequently promoted by a traveling showman known as Doctor Warner in 1852, Hiram and Barney were given new names, Waino and Plutanor, and a sensational back story – they were said to be from the island of Borneo, where they had been captured after a great struggle with armed sailors. They initially had modest success, but at least one newspaper believed them to be dwarves from the United States. The two soon went on to be exhibited at state fairs across the United States. At the time of the 1860 census they were living in Somerville, Massachusetts in the household of Henry Harvey, a showman. At some point in the next few years management of the pair was transferred to a relative of Doctor Warner, Hanford A. Warner.

In 1874 they were valued at $50,000. In January 1877 they were performing at the New American Museum located in Manhattan. In June 1880 at the time of the federal census, they were touring with William C. Coup’s circus and were enumerated under their assumed identities. By 1882 Waino and Plutanor became involved with P. T. Barnum and his traveling exhibitions. With Barnum’s fabled promotional skill, the careers of the Wild Men of Borneo took off and over the course of the next 25 years, the pair earned approximately $200,000, which was an enormous sum in that era, equivalent to $6,000,000 today. Their exhibitions primarily consisted of performing acts of great strength, such as lifting adult audience members and wrestling with both audience members and each other. They were said to be able to lift up to 300 pounds (140 kg) each. In November 1887 they were performing at Eugene Robinson’s Dime Museum and Theatre. In the 1890s Hanford’s son Ernest took over the management duties of the Davis brothers due to the elder Hanford becoming blind.

In 1903 the brothers were withdrawn from exhibitions by the Warner family. Hiram died in Waltham, Massachusetts on March 16, 1905. Barney stopped working after his brother’s death. Their former manager Hanford Warner died in 1910. Barney died on May 31, 1912 at Waltham, Massachusetts at the Warner family home. The two are buried together in Mount Vernon, Ohio, under a gravestone marked “Little Men.” Newspapers from the time report them being buried in Waltham, Massachusetts. It is unknown when their bodies were moved to Ohio.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Morris Yogg (American, active c. 1885 to 1935, d. 1939). 'Sharpshooter Wyoming Jack' c. 1890s

 

Morris Yogg (American, active c. 1885 to 1935, d. 1939), Newark, NJ
Sharpshooter Wyoming Jack
c. 1890s
Photo-Albumen silver cabinet card
6 3/4 x 4 1/4″

 

 

The long-haired sharpshooter posing with a revolver at his waist and three rifles at his side.

Stated on the verso of Yogg’s cards: “If you have beauty, come, we’ll take it; if you have none, come, we’ll make it.” Where Yogg was challenged by lack of beauty, he used accessories in an effort to enhance the sitter’s appearance. The photographer was at 162 Springfield Ave. between 1885-1914.

 

Charles Stacy (American) 'Corner 9th St. & 5th Ave. Brooklyn Col. W. F. Cody "Buffalo Bill"' c. 1900s

 

Charles Stacy (American) Corner 9th St. & 5th Ave. Brooklyn
Col. W. F. Cody “Buffalo Bill”
c. 1900s
Photo-Albumen silver cabinet card
6 1/2 x 4 1/4″

 

Charles Eisenmann (American, 1855-1927). 'Ettie Rogers' c. 1880s-1890s

 

Charles Eisenmann (American, 1855-1927), New York
Ettie Rogers
c. 1880s-1890s
Photo-Albumen silver cartes de visite
4 1/4 x 2 1/2″

 

Unknown photographer (American). 'Ettie Rogers' c. 1880s-1890s

 

Unknown photographer (American)
Ettie Rogers
c. 1880s-1890s
Photo-Albumen silver cartes de visite
4 1/4 x 2 1/2″

 

 

Ettie Rogers was an albino woman who featured in many traveling shows, notably P. T. Barnum’s travelling museums.

 

Unknown photographer (American). 'Ettie Rogers' c. 1880s-1890s

 

Unknown photographer (American)
Ettie Rogers
c. 1880s-1890s
Photo-Albumen silver cartes de visite
4 1/4 x 2 1/2″

 

Abraham Bogardus (American, 1822-1908). 'Chang Yu Sing "The Chinese Giant"' c. 1880s

 

Abraham Bogardus (American, 1822-1908), New York
Chang Yu Sing “The Chinese Giant”
c. 1880s
Photo-Albumen silver cabinet card
5 7/8 in. x 4 in. (150 mm x 101 mm)

 

 

Card imprinted with Chang’s height and weight, advertising that he is now appearing with Barnum, Bailey & Hutchinson

 

Abraham Bogardus

Abraham Bogardus (November 29, 1822 – March 22, 1908) was an American daguerreotypist and photographer who made some 200,000 daguerreotypes during his career. …

Wanting to retire in 1884, Bogardus advertised in the Philadelphia Photographer: “Wishing to retire from the photographic business, I now offer my well-known establishment for sale, after thirty-eight years’ continuous existence in this city. The reputation of the gallery is too well known to require one word of comment. The stock of registered negatives is very valuable, containing a large line of regular customers, and also very many of our prominent men, Presidents, Senators, etc., and for which orders are constantly received. They include Blaine and Logan. Entire apparatus first-class; Dallmeyer lens, etc. For further information, address Abraham Bogardus & Co., 872 Broadway cor. 18th St., New York.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Bogardus thought extensive retouching of images a kind of representational violence. In national venues he spoke in favour of minimal intervention on the negative – “I retouch but very little, just enough to smooth down the rough parts of the picture, and remove the freckles or spots, or anything we want removed, and soften down the heavy lights.” For Bogardus, altering some defect of a sitter’s appearance for the better violated the verisimilitude of the photographic resemblance, that very thing that made the image true and valuable. This modesty stood at odds with the aesthetic of Sarony, and particularly Mora, who wished to push celebrity images in the direction of the ideal. For this reason, Bogardus enjoyed a particularly high regard among prominent male sitters. He was the only photographer that Cornelius Vanderbilt allowed to sell his image. Politicians, churchmen, plutocrats, and soldiers reckoned him the reliable artist who could fix their characters on paper.

Bogardus had a second talent that rivalled his skill with a camera. He was an excellent writer, with a familiar plain style, and an orderly way of presenting complex subjects. For much of the 1880s he edited an eight-page monthly entitled The Camera, cherished as a fund of wit and common sense. He contributed frequently to the pages of the photographic journals. He retired from active business in 1887, and spent the remainder of his life restoring daguerreotypes, insuring that the first popular vehicle of “light writing” remained in pristine condition for posterity to experience.

Like most of the successful New York celebrity photographers, Bogardus hired a chief camera operator and a good chemist as a head of his print processing department. In the 1880s these assistants, Charles Sherman and A. Joseph McHugh, were granted a credit line on prints, and in 1889 took over the running of the portrait aspect of the business. This partnership ceased in 1895.

Anonymous. “Abraham Bogardus,” on the Broadway Photographs website Nd [Online] Cited 04/03/2022

 

Abraham Bogardus (American, 1822-1908). 'Chang Yu Sing "The Chinese Giant"' c. 1890s

 

Abraham Bogardus (American, 1822-1908), New York
Chang Yu Sing “The Chinese Giant”
c. 1880s
Photo-Albumen silver cabinet card
5 7/8 in. x 4 in. (150 mm x 101 mm)

 

 

Chang Woo Gow (Chang Yu Sing) (1841-1893), ‘The Chinese Giant’

Born in the Canton Province, China, Gow grew to the height of 7 feet and 8.75 inches (235.5cm) tall. Well-travelled, he was a man of exceptional intelligence, speaking at least 10 languages. Believed to be the tallest man in the world, he earned money through appearances billed as ‘The Chinese Giant’, becoming a popular tourist attraction. In Australia he met his second wife Catherine who bore him two sons, Edwin (born in Beijing) and Ernest (born in Paris). After appearing in Barnum and Bailey’s ‘Greatest Show on Earth’ he tired of 30 years of travelling the world as a marvel and retired. To cure his suspected tuberculosis, the family settled in Bournemouth (1890), establishing an Oriental-bazaar and tea-room business at their home. He became a popular local ‘attraction’ in Bournemouth when he and his wife took walks in the evenings, now known as ‘The Gentle Giant’ he was always kind and friendly, but he sought a quiet life. Heartbroken at the death of his wife, he died 4 months later. Still mourning the loss of his wife, on his deathbed he requested a quiet funeral. His funeral was therefore kept a secret to prevent hundreds of onlookers from attending. He was buried in an unmarked grave alongside his wife in a coffin said to be eight and a half feet long.

Anonymous. “Chang Woo Gow (Chang Yu Sing) (1841-1893),” on the National Portrait Gallery website Nd [Online] Cited 04/03/2022

 

Abraham Bogardus (American, 1822-1908). 'Chang Yu Sing "The Chinese Giant"' c. 1890s

 

Abraham Bogardus (American, 1822-1908), New York
Chang Yu Sing “The Chinese Giant”
c. 1880s
Photo-Albumen silver cabinet cards
5 7/8 in. x 4 in. (150 mm x 101 mm) (each)

 

 

Jacob J. Ginther (American, b. 1859), Buffalo, NY
Gustavo Arcaris Knife-Thrower
c. 1890
Photo-Albumen silver cabinet card
6 1/2 x 4 1/4″

 

 

Jacob J. Ginther, born 1859 in NY, and was working into the early 1930’s in Buffalo, is said to have started his Buffalo photography business in 1884.

Sepia-toned albumen print on original studio mount of a knife (and other weapons) thrower, Arcaris, and his female assistant with her body outlined in knives against a board.

 

Gustavo Arcaris, Father of Modern Knife Throwing

Gustavo Arcaris, better known as “The Great Arcaris”, was discovered by P. T. Barnum in Italy in the late 1880s. Barnum brought him to the US to act as a show man for the Barnum circus. The woman who performed as his assistant was Gustavo’s sister Kate.

Gustavo Arcaris and his wife were born in Italy. He came from Naples and in 1887 he emigrated with his wife Mary to America, first living in Illinois and then settled in Detroit, Michigan. In 1897 he and his wife were naturalised. According to the 1920 census he was living with his wife Mary and their four children in Detroit. The couple is listed with their three sons, Salvatore, Louis, and George, and one daughter, Virginia – who was still with the circus.

 

Unknown photographer (American) 'Nettie Littell' c. 1885

 

Unknown photographer (American)
Nettie Littell
c. 1885
Photo-Albumen silver cabinet card
6 1/2 x 4 1/4″

 

 

Early albumen print of Littell, with pencil inscription on verso reading “Capt. Nettie Littell Champion Long Distant (sic) Rider of America”. Littell was a Colorado long distance rider and shooter.

 

 

Frank Wendt (American, 1858-1930), Bowery N.Y.
Mille Mojur, Sword Walker
c. 1890s
Photo-Albumen silver cabinet card
6 1/2 x 4 1/4″

 

 

Other than Charles Eisenmann, Frank Wendt was the most well-known freak and dime museum photographer of the 19th century. Wendt was Charles Eisenmann’s protege, successor and son-in-law, taking over his father-in-law’s business in 1875 at 229 Bowery in New York City.

Anonymous text. “Frank Wendt, photographer,” on the Show History website Nd [Online] Cited 04/03/2022

 

Mille Mojur posing by a ladder made of swords. Signed faintly in pencil on the verso, likely by the performer herself.

 

 

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17
Apr
17

Exhibition: ‘Tattooed New York’ at the New-York Historical Society, New York

Exhibition dates: 3rd February – 30th April 2017

Curator: Cristian Petru Panaite, Assistant Curator of Exhibitions at the New-York Historical Society

 

 

Thomas Edison (1847-1931) 'Electric pen' 1876

 

Thomas Edison (American, 1847-1931)
Electric pen
1876
Nickel-plated flywheel, cast iron, steel stylus, and electric motor
Collection of Brad Fink, Daredevil Tattoo NYC

 

 

The first of two postings on the history of tattooing and tattoo artists of New York (the second posting being on the exhibition The Original Gus Wagner: The Maritime Roots of Modern Tattoo).

“The exhibition focuses special attention on women and tattoos, from the sideshow era through today. Photographs capture famous sideshow tattooed stars, including Nora Hildebrandt, “the first professional tattooed lady;” La Belle Irene, “the original tattooed lady;” and Lady Viola, “the most beautiful tattooed lady in the world.” A painting by tattoo artist Ace Harlyn depicting famed Bowery tattooer Charlie Wagner tattooing Mildred Hull – the “first and only tattooist woman on the Bowery” – shows some of the 300+ tattoos she created on herself. The exhibition also addresses tattooing as an art form that enabled women to challenge gender roles and turn tattoos into signs of empowerment.”

This posting includes extra information on the people featured and a wonderful song about Charlie Wagner’s tattoos – the Bowery neighbourhood, where his studio was located, being “a hotbed of tattoo culture in the 1920s-30s.”

Enjoy!

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the New-York Historical Society for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

John Simon (c. 1675-1751) after John Verelst (1648-1734) 'Sa Ga Yeath Qua Pieth Tow, King of the Maquas' 1710

 

John Simon (English, c. 1675-1751) after John Verelst (Dutch, 1648-1734)
Sa Ga Yeath Qua Pieth Tow, King of the Maquas
1710
Mezzotint
New-York Historical Society Library

 

 

A new exhibition at the New-York Historical Society will examine three centuries of tattooing in New York, including the city’s central role in the development of modern tattooing and the successive waves of trend and taboo surrounding the practice. Tattooed New York, on view February 3 – April 30, 2017, will feature more than 250 works dating from the early 1700s to today – exploring Native American body art, tattoo craft practiced by visiting sailors, sideshow culture, the 1961 ban that drove tattooing underground for three decades, and the post-ban artistic renaissance.

“We are proud to present Tattooed New York and offer our visitors an immersive look into the little-known history of modern tattooing,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of the New-York Historical Society. “At the convergence of history and pop culture, the exhibition will track the evolution of this fascinating form of self-expression and the city’s influence on the phenomenon.”

Tattooed New York will explore early communities of body art aficionados – such as Native Americans, sailors and soldiers, society women, and “tattooed ladies” – as well as examine how identity is expressed through tattoos today. It will follow the evolution of tattoo technology, from pricking and poking techniques to machines; track the rise of New York City’s Bowery neighbourhood as a hotbed of tattoo culture in the 1920s-30s; share the creative and secretive ways that tattooing continued during the ban; and feature artwork by some of the finest New York tattoo artists working today. Tattooed New York is curated by Cristian Petru Panaite, Assistant Curator of Exhibitions at the New-York Historical Society.

Text from the New-York Historical Society

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Tattooed New York' at the New-York Historical Society, New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Tattooed New York' at the New-York Historical Society, New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Tattooed New York' at the New-York Historical Society, New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Tattooed New York' at the New-York Historical Society, New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Tattooed New York' at the New-York Historical Society, New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Tattooed New York' at the New-York Historical Society, New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Tattooed New York' at the New-York Historical Society, New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Tattooed New York' at the New-York Historical Society, New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Tattooed New York' at the New-York Historical Society, New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Tattooed New York' at the New-York Historical Society, New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Tattooed New York' at the New-York Historical Society, New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Tattooed New York' at the New-York Historical Society, New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Tattooed New York' at the New-York Historical Society, New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Tattooed New York' at the New-York Historical Society, New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Tattooed New York' at the New-York Historical Society, New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Tattooed New York' at the New-York Historical Society, New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Tattooed New York' at the New-York Historical Society, New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Tattooed New York' at the New-York Historical Society, New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Tattooed New York' at the New-York Historical Society, New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Tattooed New York' at the New-York Historical Society, New York

 

Installation views of the exhibition Tattooed New York at the New-York Historical Society, New York
Photos: Glenn Castellano, New-York Historical Society

 

 

Exhibition highlights

Among the earliest items in the exhibition are the New-York Historical Society’s Four Indian Kings mezzotints from 1710, featuring portraits of Mohawk and Mohican tribal kings who traveled to London seeking military aid against the French and their Ojibwe allies. The King of the Maquas (or Mohawk tribe) is depicted with black linear patterns covering his chest and lower face. Also on view is a 1706 pictograph by a Seneca trader that represents his distinctive serpent and bird tattoos as his personal signature, one of the earliest recorded in Western accounts. Tattooed New York also features a Native American tattooing kit used for medicinal purposes and a mid-18th century Ojibwe ball club with carvings suggestive of tattoo patterns that likely adorned the warrior’s body.

As soldiers and sailors traveled the world in the early 19th century, tattoos served as mementos of faraway lands, good luck charms, and protection against induction into the British Royal Navy. Passing through New York, seamen also earned extra money by showing off their tattoos in pop-up sideshows. An early Protection Certificate and a manual tattooing kit belonging to a sailor are featured in the exhibit, along with examples of patriotic and religious art that inspired tattoo designs.

The exhibition charts the evolution of advances in the art of tattooing, many of them pioneered in New York. Martin Hildebrandt, often credited as the first professional tattoo artist in New York City, set up a permanent tattoo business in Lower Manhattan as early as 1859. The trade was revolutionised by Samuel O’Reilly’s invention of the electric tattoo machine on the Bowery in 1891. O’Reilly’s machine was based on Thomas Edison’s Electric Autographic Pen, an example of which is on view. The invention instantly made tattooing cheaper, faster, and more widely available. New York tattooers also changed the way designs were drawn, marketed, and sold. Flash – the sample tattoo drawings that still adorn many studios today – was developed and popularised by Lew Alberts, whose drawings are displayed along with work by Bob Wicks, Ed Smith, and the legendary Moskowitz Brothers.

The exhibition focuses special attention on women and tattoos, from the sideshow era through today. Photographs capture famous sideshow tattooed stars, including Nora Hildebrandt, “the first professional tattooed lady;” La Belle Irene, “the original tattooed lady;” and Lady Viola, “the most beautiful tattooed lady in the world.” A painting by tattoo artist Ace Harlyn depicting famed Bowery tattooer Charlie Wagner tattooing Mildred Hull – the “first and only tattooist woman on the Bowery” – shows some of the 300+ tattoos she created on herself. The exhibition also addresses tattooing as an art form that enabled women to challenge gender roles and turn tattoos into signs of empowerment.

In 1961, New York City’s Health Department declared it was “unlawful for any person to tattoo a human being,” citing Hepatitis B as a concern. The ban sent tattoo artists underground and many continued working quietly from their homes, often taking clients at odd hours of the night. The exhibition features photographs from the apartment studios of Thom deVita and Mike Bakaty and tattoo designs from the era, including some made to be quickly concealed in case of random police raids. The work of fine artists who began to explore tattooing during the ban years will also be on display, including Ruth Marten, Mike Bakaty, and Spider Webb.

The tattoo ban was lifted in February 1997. Today, more than 270 tattoo studios are flourishing across the five boroughs. Footage of tattooing, filmed for the exhibition in several New York studios, demystifies the process. An audio tour invites visitors to listen to the voices of legendary tattoo artists who worked in New York City during the late 20th century. The international reach of New York’s influence on the art world today is demonstrated in works by tattoo artists from Denmark, Japan, Mexico, China, Brazil, the UK, and Italy.

The exhibition closes by depicting some of the ways in which New Yorkers today use tattoos for self-expression and empowerment. Tattoos covering mastectomy scars, for instance, represent a new beginning for breast cancer survivors. Commemorative tattoos worn by survivors of 9/11 are a permanent reminder to “never forget.”

Press release from the New-York Historical Society

 

Charles Eisenmann (1855-1927) 'Nora Hildebrandt' c. 1880

 

Charles Eisenmann (American born Germany, 1855-1927)
Nora Hildebrandt
c. 1880
Albumen photograph
Collection of Adam Woodward

 

 

“Then I begin talking about Nora Hildebrandt, the first “official” tattooed woman. She had a short-lived career at Barnum & Bailey’s circus, where she’d show off her tattoos on stage. But a woman named Irene Woodward quickly replaced Nora because she was considered more attractive. This ties into the present – how many of the most famous tattoo artists are heavily sexualised – and it relates to how men fetishise the female body. In the 19th century, people who visited the freak shows could buy cabinet cards – photographs – of these women and bring them home as souvenirs. People would collect them. It was like their version of Instagram followers. Both practices relate to the female body being “circulated” and “owned”.”

Anni Irish quoted in Zach Sokol. “The History of Tattooed Ladies from Freakshows to Reality TV,” on the Vice website 14th May 2015 [Online] Cited 09/12/2021

 

Unknown photographer. 'La Belle Irene' c. 1880s

 

Unknown photographer
La Belle Irene
c. 1880s

 

'La Belle Irene French postcard' 1890

 

La Belle Irene French postcard
1890

 

Unknown photographer. 'La Belle Irene' c. 1880s

 

Unknown photographer
La Belle Irene
c. 1880s

 

Samuel O'Reilly (1854-1909) 'Eagle and shield' c. 1875-1905

 

Samuel O’Reilly (American, 1854-1909)
Eagle and shield
c. 1875-1905
Watercolour, ink, and pencil on paper
Collection of Lift Trucks Project

 

 

O’Reilly was a New York tattoo artist, who patented the first electric tattoo machine on December 8, 1891. He began tattooing in New York around the mid-1880s. O’Reilly’s machine was based on the rotary technology of Thomas Edison’s autographic printing pen. Although O’Reilly held the first patent for an electric tattoo machine, tattoo artists had been experimenting with and modifying a variety of different machines prior to the issuance of the patent. O’Reilly’s first pre-patent tattoo machine was a modified dental plugger, which he used to tattoo several dime museum attractions for exhibition between the years 1889 and 1891. From the late 1880s on, tattoo machines continually evolved into what we now consider a modern tattoo machine. O’Reilly first owned a shop at #5 Chatham Square on the New York Bowery. In 1904, he moved to #11 Chatham Square when the previous tenant, tattoo artist Elmer Getchell, left the city. Charles Wagner was allegedly apprenticed to O’Reilly and later assumed ownership of his #11 Chatham Square shop. On April 29, 1909, Samuel O’Reilly fell while painting his house and died. He is buried in the Cemetery of the Holy Cross, Section: St. Michaels, Range: 22, Grave: 209 Brooklyn, Kings, NY.

Text from the Wikipedia website

For more information on early tattoo machines please see the Buzzworthy Tattoo History web page

 

The tattoo industry was “revolutionized overnight,” according to Steve Gilbert’s Tattoo History: A Source Book, which adds that, “O’Reilly was swamped with orders and made a small fortune within a few years.” His electric machine was capable of making many more punctures per minute, and its puncturing was more precise – resulting in more accurate tattoos and less bleeding for the recipient.

Not only was he an innovative craftsman, but Prof. O’Reilly also would become the leading tattoo artist of his era. Perhaps the ultimate confirmation of his talents was that even circus tattoo-freaks sought out his services so they could revivify their illustrated bodies. But as tattoos became more popular, these circus tattoo-freaks were losing business, as their ink-laden bodies were no longer that rare.

O’Reilly’s steadiest source of clientele was the U.S. Navy. In his view, an American sailor without a tattoo was “not seaworthy,” according to Albert Parry’s Tattoo: Secrets of a Strange Art. The inventor’s studio often was packed with young men looking to be “seaworthy.” A shrewd marketer, O’Reilly circulated a pamphlet about tattooed U.S. military members fighting in the Spanish-American War. Part of this pamphlet reads: “Brave fellows! Little fear had they of shot and shell amid the smoke of battle, and after the scrub down they gloried in their tattoos.”

Ray Cavanaugh. “O’Reilly’s Tattoo Machine: Fine Art for the Masses,” on the Irish America website April/May 2016 [Online] Cited 09/12/2021

 

 

Lady Viola the most beautiful TATTOOED WOMAN in the world
c. 1920s

 

 

Lady Viola was born March 27, 1898 in Covington, Kentucky, and her real name Ethel Martin Vangi. She was tattooed in 1920 by Frank Graf and soon became known as “the most beautiful tattooed woman in the world.” Lady Viola worked in museums and participated in the Thomas Joyland Show until 73 years old.

Read more on the Tattoo History A-Z website

 

Unknown photographer. 'Lady Viola (Ethel Vangi)' c. 1920s

 

Unknown photographer
Lady Viola (Ethel Vangi)
c. 1920s

 

Ed Smith (active c. 1920-40) 'Self-portrait showing Rock of Ages back piece' c. 1920

 

Ed Smith (American, 1868-1930, active c. 1900-30)
Self-portrait showing Rock of Ages back piece
c. 1920
Ink on paper
Collection of Adam Woodward

 

 

Charles Edward Smith aka Ed Smith was an early Boston tattooer, active from the early 1900s until his death in 1930. Not to be confused with New York Bowery tattoo artist, Denver Ed Smith.

 

Unidentified Maker and Charlie Wagner (1873-1953) 'Statue from Charlie Wagner's tattoo shop at 11 Chatham Square' c. 1930

 

Unidentified Maker and Charlie Wagner (American, 1873-1953)
Statue from Charlie Wagner’s tattoo shop at 11 Chatham Square
c. 1930
Polychromed papier-mâché and linen on wood turned base
Collection of Adam Woodward

 

Bob Wicks (1902-1990) 'Flash sheet #36' c. 1930

 

Bob Wicks (American, 1902-1990)
Flash sheet #36
c. 1930
Pen and watercolour on art board
Collection of Ohio Tattoo Museum

 

Eli Jacobi (1898-1984) 'Tattoo Artist' c. 1935

 

Eli Jacobi (American born Russia, 1898-1984)
Tattoo Artist
c. 1935
Lithograph
New-York Historical Society Library

 

Ace Harlyn (active c. 1930-40) 'Charlie Wagner tattooing Millie Hull' 1939

 

Ace Harlyn (American, active c. 1930-40)
Charlie Wagner tattooing Millie Hull
1939
Oil on canvas
Collection of Brad Fink, Daredevil Tattoo NYC

 

 

Mildred Hull, the mother of modern tattooing during the height of the city’s tattoo boom in the early 20th century, was a woman of many talents. Born in 1897, Hull dropped out of school when she was just 13 years old according to The Tattoo Archive, later on joining the circus [before becoming an exotic dancer] …

According to Untapped Cities, by 1939 Hull had left the circus and had begun to put ink to skin with a little help from her long time tattoo artist, Charlie Wagner. In the following years, Hull elevated her tiny studio, aptly named The Tattoo Emporium, to one of the most renowned tattoo shops anywhere along that infamous stretch of seedy land…

In 1936 Hull graced the cover of Family Circle – tattoos and all – in what became an unprecedented, monumental moment in history, one that until now has gone widely overlooked. It’s important to note that at the time, the magazine’s main mission was to provide women with home economic tips.

Alex Wikoff. “Flash from the Past: Millie Hull,” on the Tattoodoo website Nd [Online] Cited 09/12/2021

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Millie Hull tattooing in her studio]' Nd

 

Unknown photographer
Untitled [Millie Hull tattooing in her studio]
Nd

 

 

The intersection of Bowery, Chatham Square, and Division Street in what is now New York’s Chinatown has seen a lot of changes in the past century or so, but none were as influential to the history of the city than what happened on those streets at the turn of the century – the birth of modern tattooing. The Bowery was home to a whole host of influential artists whom would later come to be known as the founding fathers of the tattoo community, but among them was a diamond in the rough, “New York’s only lady tattooer,” Millie Hull. “Millie Hull learned how to tattoo from Charlie Wagner on the Bowery,” explains Michelle Myles, artist and co-owner of Daredevil Tattoo and Museum. “I mean, can you imagine what a tough broad she must have been?”

Alex Wikoff. “Flash from the Past: Millie Hull,” on the Tattoodoo website Nd [Online] Cited 09/12/2021

 

 

Capt. Don Leslie – Wagner’s Tattooed Lady

I first met her on the Bow’ry at a place called Chatham Square.
It was not her eyes that drew me near, her lips or pretty hair.
It was not her dress of velvet or her patent leather shoes,
But on her hide she wore with pride Charlie Wagner’s tattoos.

Chorus:

Well, red roses she wore on her breast; what a sight!
Oh the colour so vivid, so vivid and bright!
And the blues notes danced ’round about her pretty blouse.
Some say it was a waltz, like Johann Strauss.

I swear on my child and the gold in my teeth
That the memory of that tattooed queen still lingers sweet.
Oh, she came down to Charlie there at Chatham Square
To get tattooed by the master there.

Well, I left the Bowery in ’42,
Stopped my gamblin’ and runnin’ hooch,
But I always dreamed of that tattooed queen
And Charlie Wagner’s fascinating tattoo machines.

Chorus:

Well, red roses she wore on her breast; what a sight!
Oh the colour so vivid, so vivid and bright!
And the blues notes danced ’round about her pretty blouse.
Some say it was a waltz, like Johann Strauss.

I’ve seen beautiful designs like “Duel in the Sun,”
“Rock of Ages,” battleships and military guns.
Well, they all have their place, like a heart with “Mom,”
But Charlie Wagner’s tattooed lady’s still Number One.

They preachers all say, “There’s a land so fair.”
Some folks call it “heaven” or the “golden stair.”
Well, some call it “paradise,” and I really do not care,
For I’d rather be down in Chatham Square.
And, to the right of the throne, are a chosen few:
Picasso, Rembrandt and Michelangelo too.
Hey, let me name them all for you,
And don’t you forget Professor Wagner too.
Some painted on canvas and some on chapel walls.
Their art’s worth millions for fame and all.
But Charlie Wagner’s the king of this man’s dreams,
For he painted the beautiful tattooed queen.

Chorus:

Well, red roses she wore on her breast; what a sight!
Oh the colour so vivid, so vivid and bright!
And the blues notes danced ’round about her pretty blouse.
Some say it was a waltz, like Johann Strauss.

Charlie Wagner, you’re the greatest and there ain’t no doubt.

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Charlie Wagner tattooing in his studio]' Nd

 

Unknown photographer
Untitled [Charlie Wagner tattooing in his studio]
Nd

 

Unknown photographer. '"Painless" Jack Tyron tattooed by Charlie Wagner and Lewis (Lew) Alberts' Nd

 

Unknown photographer
“Painless” Jack Tyron tattooed by Charlie Wagner and Lewis (Lew) Alberts
Nd

 

 

Painless Jack Tryon, also sometimes known as “Three Star Jack”, was often billed as the “World’s Most Handsomely Tattooed Man.” Charlie Wagner and Lew Alberts tattooed him around the turn of the 20th century.

Tryon worked as an attraction. Little is known where Tryon learned the art of tattooing, but by early 1910 he was making a name for himself as a tattooist. He was a man of many talents. Bob Shaw remembered Tryon as a magician, wirewalker, a hand balancer and fire-eater. Jack’s wife was a snake handler and often worked with him. Tyron also worked as a boss canvas man on railroad shows like Sells-Floto in 1923.

While in the United States Air Force in the late 1940s Col. William Todd was stationed at San Antonio, Texas. He recalls that there were “lots of tattoo shops in San Antonio. On the weekends I would visit the tattoo shops and get a little piece of work from a gentleman by the name of Painless Jack Tyron. I got to talking with Jack and wanted to buy a machine. He fixed me up with a little machine, a bottle of colour and 4 or 5 stencils of Air Force wings and such. I took it back to the base, we only got off Sunday, so Saturday I was tattooing a bunch of my buddies. I did this for about three weeks. One day the Officer of the Watch came in and made me wrap my stuff up, and he took it to the Orderly Room and confiscated it from me. I wanted my machine and stuff back but I was afraid to say anything. I left there and never heard any more about it”.

Just a few years later, Tryon played a part in Bob Shaw’s tattoo career. At that time, Bob was working for Bert Grimm in St. Louis. “By the Fall of ’48 business was just so slow. Bert contacted an old circus friend who was in San Antonio, Painless Jack Tryon, and he gave me a job. I went to San Antonio in May of 1949.”

It is interesting that Jack Tryon had an affect on both Bob Shaw and Col. Todd early in their tattoo careers. Shaw and Todd went on to work together in Clarksville, Tennessee in the 1950s, at Long Beach, California in the 1960s, and owned a shop together in Portland, Oregon in the 1970s. Tex Rowe drifted through San Antonio in the 1940s and remembered Tryon as “a tattooed man covered by Wagner and Albert, and an old-time circus tattooer who worked out of an antique circus wagon. Staked me to my first square meal in days and let me sit-in for a while to make a little ‘walking around’ money.”

Originally published by the Tattoo Archive © 2003 Updated 2017

Anonymous text. “”Painless” Jack Tryon,” on the Tattoo Archive website [Online] Cited 09/12/2021

 

Irving Herzberg (1915-1992) 'Tattoo shop of "Coney Island Freddie" just prior to New York City's ban on tattooing' 1961

 

Irving Herzberg (American, 1915-1992)
Tattoo shop of “Coney Island Freddie” just prior to New York City’s ban on tattooing
1961
Digital print
Brooklyn Public Library

 

 

“A Jewish tattoo artist, Fred Grossman (aka Coney Island Freddie) sued the city for illegitimately crushing his business. (Mike Bakaty, the founder of Fineline Tattoo and an East Village tattoo legend, who died last year, told a journalist that Grossman felt that the Health Department’s motive was to “clean up the city” before showing it off at the 1964 World’s Fair.) Grossman lost, then lost again on appeal. State appellate judge Aron Steuer (the son of Max Steuer, my husband’s cousin who defended the Triangle Factory owners – the New York Steuers were clearly charming people) ruled that the city had the right to decide what was healthy behaviour and what wasn’t. And furthermore, he noted, “the decoration, so-called, of the human body by tattoo designs is, in our culture, a barbaric survival, often associated with a morbid or abnormal personality.” (Another Jewish judge, Samuel Rabin, dissented, saying that “the testimony of the defendants’ medical experts indicates that the practice of tattooing can be safe, if properly conducted in accordance with appropriate principles of asepsis. That being so, I am of the opinion that the outright prohibition of the practice of tattooing is an unwarranted extension of the police power and therefore is invalid.” Medically correct, but societally unpopular.)”

Marjorie Ingall. “Jews and Tattoos: A New York Story,” on the Tablet website [Online] Cited 15/04/2017. No longer available online

 

Tony D'Annessa (b. 1935) 'Window shade with flash designs from Tony D'Annessa's tattoo shop on W. 48th Street' c. 1962

 

Tony D’Annessa (b. 1935)
Window shade with flash designs from Tony D’Annessa’s tattoo shop on W. 48th Street
c. 1962
Ink outline with markers coloring on vinyl
Collection of Tony D’Annessa and Dave Cummings, PSC Tattoo, Montreal

 

 

 

Tattoo Tony: 83-year-old artist keeps old-school style alive

Tony D’Annessa just might be Canada’s oldest tattoo artist. Although he is now located in Montreal’s Pointe-Sainte-Charles neighbourhood, Tony started tattooing in New York City way back in the 1950s.

See an interview with D’Annessa in July 2013 on the San Bleu Magazine website [Online] Cited 13/12/2021

 

John Wyatt (b. 1942) 'Thom de Vita and client in his studio at 326 E 4th Street' 1976

 

John Wyatt (American, b. 1942)
Thom de Vita and client in his studio at 326 E 4th Street
1976
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the artist

 

Ruth Marten (b.1949) 'Marquesan Heads' 1977

 

Ruth Marten (American, b. 1949)
Marquesan Heads
1977
Enamel paint on masonite
Collection of the artist

 

 

Ruth Marten’s drawings occupy and enact upon the historical spaces of vintage prints by detourning them with the precision of the tattoo artist. Delicate, controlled and highly illusionistic, they utilise the trope of the visual malaprop to create an imaginary third space in which surreal and subversive narratives are entwined. Central to Marten’s work is the idea that the visual classificatory systems and conventions of natural history and encyclopaedic illustrations are inherently partial and unstable, and she exploits this knowledge to create a surreal and subversive world in which hip-hop Phoenicians can co-exist with hirsute Counts.

In Marten’s indelible vision, tables are tapped by snakes, picnic baskets and bizarre forms of horticulture, whilst a priapic primate supports a giant wig on the back of a marmoset. Her drawings map these fantastical spaces with a technical subtlety that makes them appear quasi-scientific: like rogue illustrations from a Raymond Roussel novel, or key evidence in a pataphysical court of enquiry. In fusing the historical aspects of her chosen prints with contemporary concerns, Marten’s work speak to us across time and, in doing so, it take the weights, measures and protocols of the taxonomic process to forge a magical world that is distinctly her own.

“Born and living in N.Y., Ruth Marten has worn several hats, in spite of the hair. From 1972 to 1980 she was an important figure in the tattoo underground and, as one of the few women practicing the craft, influenced people’s ideas about body decoration. Working during the disco and punk era, she also tattooed in the Musée D’Art Moderne de La Ville de Paris during the 10th Biennale de Paris in 1977.

Hired by Jean-Paul Goude for her first illustration (and for 30 years after) she illustrated books, albums and magazines and is most associated with the “Year in Provence” books of Peter Mayle, art-directed for A.A.Knopf by Carol Devine Carson. That love of the printed image informs her newest interest: changing, through over-drawing and collage, the configuration and content of 18th century engravings.”

Anonymous text from the LittleJohn Contemporary website [Online] Cited 13/12/2021

 

Maury Englander (b. 1943) 'Tattooed family at the first New York City Tattoo Convention' 1998

 

Maury Englander (b. 1943)
Tattooed family at the first New York City Tattoo Convention
1998
Digital print
© Maury Englander, All Rights Reserved

 

 

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
at Richard Gilder Way (77th Street)
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Thursday, Saturday – Sunday: 11am – 5pm
Friday: 11am – 8pm
Monday – Tuesday: CLOSED

New-York Historical Society website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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