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?
Sure! 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.