What comes to mind if we think of tattoo artists at the beginning of the 20th century? Probably someone who looks like Sailor Jerry, right? With a mustache, full of tattoos of mermaids and anchors, etc.
Well, it is possible that this man has nothing to do with the first female tattoo artist, Maud Stevens.
In the early 1900s, she was earning a living as an acrobat and contortionist during the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. (Something like the modern-day Expo)
While she was working, Maud, met Gus Wagner, famous for being both a “globetrotter tattoo artist” (a person who travels the world with little money) and for being the last to perform freehand work, with the technique called ” hand-poked ”, in which only the ink and the needle are used.
It was Gus who taught her the basic technique of needle and ink. At the time, simple design drawings were trendy and this simplified Gus’s career, and made Maud’s start easier!
According to the book “Inked: Tattoos and Body Art Around the World”, Gus tattooed Maud only because he was trying to get a date with her, and then insisted on teaching her how to tattoo! Once convinced, she began by tattooing herself and later others.
She had patriotic tattoos, monkeys, butterflies, lions, horses, snakes, trees, women and her name tattooed on her left arm. Since she had been extensively tattooed by her husband, she worked as a tattooed attraction and achieved a certain notoriety for herself.”
She was a fast and attentive student, an attribute that allowed her not only to be a living canvas of Gus Wagner’s works but also to be able to tattoo other circus artists and the public who flocked to these colorful events.
Wagner and Stevens, later on, had a daughter, Lovetta, who became a tattoo artist too. But she did not become the canvas of her father or of anyone else. Apparently, Maud forbade her husband to tattoo her daughter, which became somewhat of a rarity… a tattoo artist without tattoos!
After the death of her father, Lovetta decided that if her father hadn’t tattooed her, no one else would do it with her.
Of course, female tattoo artists and tattooed women are no longer a rarity. A 2012 research found that there are more women with tattoos (23%) than their male counterparts (19%). And an increasing number of people with tattoos, male or female, have been tattooed by women…all following the footsteps of Maud Stevens.
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