By Jay Brown
The Northwest Tattoo Museum is a project that was started almost two years ago when in a conversation it was suggested that there needs to be a tattoo museum in the Northwestern US. In answer to this call myself (a longtime tattoo artist of 24 years at the time) and avid hoarder of everything tattoo, and my fiancé Jennifer DeRose, who is an anthropologist/archaeologist decided to take on the challenge. I then dug out my collection of tattoo machines, old flash and other stuff I had piled up over the years while Jennifer started building the database for the museum’s collection...
The next step was converting my tattoo studio in Moscow, Idaho (the home of the University of Idaho) into the Northwest Tattoo Museum. I took down all the new flash, and started adding old flash sheets from my collection along with business cards, flyers and acetate stencils; I started framing and filling every space I could. When the place started looking presentable, I declared the opening of the museum. Shortly after Mike Pike made the first donation, the machine he made that was in the first handmade tattoo machine book. After that, I told my friends across the country about the museum and the donations started coming in.
Other Northwest tattooers contributed to the museum by loaning items to the museum from their collections for the museum to display. With this going on and my insatiable urge to continue to buy or trade for anything and everything old and tattoo related, the museum’s collection continues to grow. Since the beginning we have filled the shop in Moscow, and are now getting ready to open a Museum Shop in Coeur d’Alene, ID because the museum has outgrown its original home, and I have recently relocated to there, leaving the original location open.
In February of this year I took the museum out on the road for the first time in small-scale at the Ink Travelers Convention in Vancouver, WA. Then in April I took it to the 33rd National Tattoo Association Convention in Cincinnati, OH where I was joined by Buddy Wheeler of Tattoo Charlie’s Tattoo Museum in Louisville, KY. In July we moved the overflow to Coeur d’Alene and started recording the items in the database. In September we were back out on the road when we took the museum to a convention here in the northwest the Three Rivers Tattoo Convention in Kennewick, WA. And most recently, ending out our year traveling before settling into a new home, we did the Alliance of Professional Tattooists Trade Show at the Golden Nugget Casino in Las Vegas.
Our goal with the museum is to preserve and display the history of electric tattooing, and try to preserve the history of tattooing within the Northwestern United States, which we have deemed at this point, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Utah. We also have and collect items from all over the world.
The museum houses items from the 1910s to present day, and has a wide spectrum of items including tattoo machines, tattoo flash, tattoo signs, acetate and celluloid stencils, sketches, business cards, catalogues, Kobel photos, old tattoo photos; if it has anything to do with tattooing, we collect it. We house items from Amund Deitzel, Fred Marquand, Bert Grimm, Paul Rogers, Bob Shaw, Sailor Jerry Collins, Percy Waters, Owen Jensen, Milton Zeis, the Chicago Tattoo Supply House, Bill Jones and many more.
The museum is free of charge to the public and tattoo artists are always welcome. We have a spot for guest artists with 20 years experience or more, as a working exhibit and a way to get some of those great old tattoo stories. We plan to work with other tattoo museums in the future and hopefully have guest exhibits throughout the year. The museum will also offer machine restoration as a service to those who want to bring their old machine back to its original condition. Also we provide appraisal of items, as well as sales.
The Northwest Tattoo Museum, you could say, is my passion and love for the history of this great craft and the culmination of my lifetime of plying the trade, in one form or another whether it tattooing, building machines, or writing articles. The museum has definitely been a project that has been paying off, well not in money, this year at the A.P.T. Trade Show I was given the Lifetime Achievement Award, much in part I believe for the work I have done on the museum project these last two-plus years. There is a whole lot more to come, we literally have items waiting for donation because we don’t have room, and that’s good. The more we have, the more we are able to bring to the tattooists and fans of the art of electric tattooing here in the Northwest.
The museum is a labor of love, and if funded solely out of our pocket right now, so we always accept contributions and donations of old tattoo items, so if you have some old flash or machines or stencils or whatnot that are just sitting in a drawer or a box, and you’d like to see them see the light of day, be appreciated and help educate others as well as preserve tattoo history, we are always looking for items. And anything you donate is tax-deductible and will have a good home. We also take items on loan, Jennifer, who is a professional curator, has all the proper paperwork to make something like that happen if you want to see something you have in the museum, but want to retain ownership, our goal is to serve the craft by providing a database and a physical place for people to come and see part of our great history of electric tattooing and beyond. We also, as funds allow, will purchase vintage and antique tattoo items.
So as 2012 comes to a close, we start to ready the new location in Coeur d’Alene for the Northwest Tattoo Museum, plans for our Grand Opening are in January of 2013, as long as the Mayans aren’t right… There’ll be info on the opening as it gets closer… the original Moscow, ID location will be still be open and you can follow what’s happing with the museum on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/222031604576583/.
(Jay Brown is a tattoo artist, machine-builder and contributing blogger for Tattoo Artist Magazine. Jay can be found at A Fine Art Tattoo Studio, in Moscow, Idaho.)
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