Since 2005, the Saint Louis Old School Tattoo Expo has brought artists and enthusiasts alike under one roof in the Gateway City. This website celebrates the annual St. Louis show (still going strong in its second decade of existence!) as well as all manner of topics related to tattoos and tattooing.

How old is tattooing?

The discovery of a frozen, relatively well-preserved corpse in 1991 provided evidence that tattooing was well advanced among some European peoples between 3400 BCE and 3100 BCE – the so-called Ötzi the Iceman wore some 61 soot-based tattoos in geometric shapes spread throughout his body. Previous discoveries of tools thought to be used in tattooing from the Upper Paleolithic would place the discovery of tattooing somewhere between 50,000 BCE and 10,000 BCE.

Why was tattooing so taboo in Western culture for so long?

From the fall of Rome (no, literally) to 1900, tattooing was next to non-existent nearly everywhere in inland Europe. Stories of tattooed people where mostly left to storytellers until the golden age of buccaneering and colonialist expansion kicked off.

As the terms and boundaries of modern racism became defined in the early days of the North America-based slave trade, tattooing among the, ahem, uncivilized peoples of Africa and the New World was thought to be yet another primitive, anti-Christian ritual to be wiped away from the culture altogether. As with other inconveniences to a would-be colonial ruler such as native languages, polytheistic or animistic religions and lack of currency, tattooing was thought to be another sign of savagery the elimination of which was another necessary part of the “White Man’s Burden.”

But tattooing survived.

It did. When the intrepid explorers, traders, pillagers and/or conquerors ventured into alien lands and came away with art on their skins.

Ironically enough, international warfare re-spread the practice of tattooing in Western cultures. For those in the U.S. armed forces at least, getting a tattoo (typically squadron-based) was nearly requisite with service. To date, an estimated 75% to 80% of American servicemen and -women have tattoos, well above the 50% average of the general population.

Naturally, it was the hippie’s heyday of the 1960s and 70s which morphed tattooing from the exclusionary property of the blue-collar tough guy or decorated warrior into a commonplace accoutrement for hip Americans – as well as hip Brits, Scots, French and (West) Germans. And in terms of tattoos per capita, those offspring of the Baby Boomers known as Generation X are certainly America’s leaders.

Maybe a few words on the Saint Louis Old School Tattoo Expo itself?

 tattoo artist Lyle TuttleSure! The Saint Louis Old School Tattoo Expo was first held in 2004; the first event was organized by local longtime tattoo artist Lyle Tuttle and William DeMichele, known as one of the world’s foremost tattoo photographers.

At first merely a convention at which national artists could hawk their wares, the Old School Tattoo Expo quickly expanded to include seminars and educational exchange for professionals. Over the first few years, any profits were invested in the Lyle Tuttle Tattoo Art Museum; the museum was ultimately founded in 2010 thanks to the Expo.

Today, the Saint Louis Old School Tattoo Expo is known as one of the foremost shows in the American Midwest and has become a particular staple in November, as the tattoo convention schedule tends to center on the spring and early summer months.

NFL players with tattoos

NFL players with tattoos
For a tattoo artist, professional athletes represent a holy grail of sorts: These are dudes with gobs of money, more workspace that the average human, and can offer exposure for the artwork to hundreds of millions of eyeballs. The following are some examples of our favorite work from contemporary NFL players.

Hot Ink Slot Game

Hot Ink Slot Game
Just about every other aspect of life is captured up in online slot machine game format these days, so why tattooing? The biggest name in slot machine creation and design, Microgaming, includes the tattoo-themed Hot Ink among its massive casino games catalogue – and the massive 100,000-coin jackpot has kept this slot popular since its launch.

My friend Gwyn’s tattoo

My friend Gwyn’s tattoo
Gwyn is a friend and a former colleague of mine, who has left her inevitable indelible impression on me as she has on certainly all she meets. With an élan all out of proportion to her maybe 5’ height does Gwyn celebrate her passions: Karaoke, retro kitsch, proper grammar (once a culture reporter and then a TV journo, she’s now a journalism professor) and most of all, pork.