Wednesday, February 1, 2023

St. Louis’ First Tattoo Artist Shop

Bert Grimm was the first person to open a shop on Market Street in the 1920s. Grimm was born in Springfield, Missouri. He left home when he was 15 to pursue his goal of becoming a master tattoo artist. He traveled in summer with carnivals and inked tattoos. In winter, he spent time in Chicago’s penny arcades inking tattoos. He told the St. In 1942, Louis Post-Dispatch. “Those who can confront the guy twice and those who don’t dare to, the drifters”

Grimm never intended to be the latter. He began a Renaissance-style apprenticeship in 1923 with Sailor George Fosdick, Oregon. After that, he noticed that San Diego was home to some of the most beautiful tattoos. Grimm’s signature American Classic style, which combines dark outlines, bright colors, and subtle shading, was developed during this time. He held a nearly unbroken monopoly of tattooing in St. Louis for 27 consecutive years.

The Post reported in 1947 that Grimm was one of six top tattoo artists worldwide and had inked 75,000 arms, legs, and torsos. Many of these were attached to visitors from outside St. Louis. Grimm was asked by a California carpenter to draw the state’s native fauna and flora on his arms, legs, and torso. A woman called herself the World’s Champion Hiker and was another repeat customer. She hiked coast to coast each year and stopped in St. Louis every year for a tattoo. People wanted “one-sitting tattoos”: a sweetheart’s name, a flower, a rose, or clothes on a naked woman the tattooed person regretted. Grimm was visited every time a burlesque show was performed by a man. He had his name added to his forearm. People asked for their Social Security numbers or blood types. Grimm also created thousands of American flags and battleships and screaming eagles for the arms and torsos of military personnel. Grimm approached every project “as an artist with capital A.”

Grimm returned to California in the late 1950s. He bought a Long Beach tattoo shop at 22 Chestnut and later opened other locations. Grimm attracted some of America’s most talented tattoo artists to Los Angeles County. The influence of that scene is still felt today. Grimm was inducted into The Tattoo Hall of Fame in 1981. His shop on Chestnut, opened its doors in 1927 and is now known as Outer Limits Tattoo and Museum. It is the oldest continually operating tattoo parlor in the United States.

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