Mountain View

R.I.P. Lyle Tuttle 1931-2019

Another major loss for the world of tattooing: Lyle Tuttle, forefather of modern tattooing, passed away peacefully on Monday, at the age of 87

Tattoofilter in History
Lyle Tuttle in 2007

Lyle Tuttle was born in Chariton, Iowa in 1931 but grew up in Ukiah, California. In 1945, at the age of fourteen, he purchased his first tattoo for $3.50 (around $50 today). Four years later, in 1949, he began tattooing professionally at the age of eighteen.

Lyle has seen the ups and downs of the art of tattooing since he started his career in 1949. He began tattooing after World War II, which was when tattooing was at a bit of a stand still. During the war, millions of servicemen were getting tattooed, so work was booming. After the war was over, tattooing dipped in popularity once again. He opened up his own shop in San Francisco in 1954. He began tattooing many women celebrities which, in turn, drew reporters to him, questioning him about the history of tattoos, etc. It was open for nearly 30 years and during this time, Tuttle tattooed the likes of Janis Joplin, Cher, Jo Baker, Henry Fonda, Paul Stanley, Joan Baez, The Allman Brothers and many other notable musicians, film stars, and celebrities of that time.

Tuttle did an interview with Prick magazine, published in January 2001, where he states what he believes brought tattooing out of its “lull” after World War II:

What brought tattooing out of the lull that you said you started in?

“Women’s liberation! One hundred percent women’s liberation! That put tattooing back on the map. With women getting a new found freedom, they could get tattooed if they so desired. It increased and opened the market by 50% of the population – hell of the human race! For three years, I tattooed almost nothing but women. Most women got tattooed for the entertainment value… circus side show attractions and so forth. Self-made freaks, that sort of stuff. The women made tattooing a softer and kinder art form. Then the black people started getting tattooed. That was the other big shot in the arm for the tattooing industry, actually. The printed word has done more for this industry than anything. What you’re doing right now as a matter of fact. I was on the cover of Rolling Stone. The Wall Street Journal did a front page story on me, in the personality profile section in 1971. Soon after that, this one girl called me up that was so ecstatic. She said she came from an uptight stockbroker type family, and ended up marrying a stockbroker, but always wanted a tattoo. Her father was totally against the idea. Then one day out of the blue, her dad called her up and said “Why don’t you get a tattoo honey?” He had read about tattoos in the god damned Wall Street Journal and that made it okay! The printed word lingers on. TV is fleeting. You see it and it’s gone. Magazines started coming out and people started spreading them out. More people became aware of the art form that it was becoming. With tattooing becoming more acceptable, it brought a better grade of artists into the picture. That’s still the case – it just keeps getting better and better. How can a guy that’s devoted more than fifty years of his life to this industry not enjoy where it’s at now. I’m proud to be part of it’s history. I'm proud of what it has become and look forward to see where it goes from here. Tattoos are everywhere now, Hell, we’ve even got a goddamned free tattoo magazine now! Look at these things laying all over the place (pointing out all the PRICKs scattered about).”

Lyle was one of the most infamous tattoo artists of mid 1900’s. In a way, he was the one responsible for bringing back the popularity of the tattoo. Our deepest condolences go to his family and friends. This remarkable artist with such a long history in tattooing will be remembered and missed.

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