BALTIMORE – Myth No. 1: Tattooists won’t work on drunks because they bleed too much during the process.
Wrong, said Bill Stevenson, co-owner of the Baltimore Tattoo Museum at the corner of Eastern Avenue and Bond Street.
“That’s a myth started by a tattooist who just didn’t want to tattoo a drunk,” Stevenson said. “They just don’t sit still.”
The museum — part display area and part tattoo shop — is as much about the history of tattooing as it is about dispelling mistruths about the profession. It turns 4 years old May 5, but it has the feel of a city staple, with all the color and flavor of an old tattoo parlor.
The staff in the museum, at the edge of Fells Point in an unassuming green and gray building that used to be a city parole office, is full of the lore of the trade.
Often a tattooist would pull a drunk or homeless person off the street, pay them 50 cents, and let an apprentice practice on them, said David Sobel, a tattooist at the museum.
George Dobson, another tattooist, did not trace the exact origins of the practice but did jokingly mention prehistoric humans etching crude drawings on their arms. Most of the collected items at the Baltimore shop are from the 20th century.
The museum is a work in progress, the construction completed by family and friends. Walls are lined with photos of men covered in tattoos, tattooists practicing their craft and posters from tattoo conventions.
In the back, are a handful of quirky tattoo-related pieces including: The Rolling Stones’ “Tattoo You” record album, a tattooed Barbie and a HotWheels children’s tattoo kit — for producing temporary tattoos, of course.
The museum also boasts original art from patriarchs of the form, including George L. “Doc” Webb and Stoney St. Claire, who used to work in a sideshow before opening his parlor.
Stevenson pointed to a display of “Sailor” Jerry Collins’ work. Collins changed the craft, he said.
“It’s bold and super-crisp,” Stevenson said of Collins’ art.
Stevenson founded the museum with Sobel, Dobson and Chris Keaton, the other co-owner, four years ago. All were friends who escaped the yoke of former bosses to start their own store, he said.
Mike Kreller, in the store to get his fiance’s name tattooed on his arm, said he found out about the store through his friends.
“It is a part of your personality,” Kreller said about tattoos. “It’s part of what you stand for.”
Shannon Reilly has worked at the museum for three years and loves working with the people, she said.
“Everybody has a very engaging personality,” she said about the museum’s tattooists. “Every day is different.” – 30 – CNS 05-02-03