Remembering Lyle Tuttle

gGood Morning Speakeasy Tattoo readers!

This morning, I am writing you from sunny Los Angeles. This week at the shop has been refreshingly quiet, and I have a feeling the summer heat has already reached it’s peak- I survived my first full summer in LA! I can’t wait until it starts raining again!

Also, if you haven’t checked out Speakeasy Artist Andreanna Iakovidis’s most recent tattoos, check them out here!

You can also view Andreanna’s flash here!

This week, I wanted to write about the tattoo artist Lyle Tuttle. Lyle Tuttle passed away earlier this year, a little less than a week before I started my apprenticeship. My instagram feed was filled with images of Lyle, as the tattoo community mourned a significant loss. Being from the Bay Area, I like learning about the history of tattooing in the bay, and Lyle Tuttle was a staple of 1960s San Francisco counterculture. Lyle Tuttle was born in Chariton, Iowa in 1931. His parents were farmers, and soon after relocated to Northern California, to escape the drought.

Lyle was a tattoo enthusiast from a young age, he paid $3.50 for his first tattoo at age 14. It was a heart with the word ‘Mother’ across it, done by an artist in San Francisco, named Ralph Kaufman. Lyle eventually dropped out of high school and went to work in San Francisco with the artist who did his ‘Mother’ tattoo, Ralph Kaufman. After serving in the U.S Marines during the Korean war, Lyle went to work with the tattoo artist Bert Grimm, in Long Beach, CA. He would then go on to work in Alaska, and eventually tattoo in every continent. Lyle was fully covered in tattoos besides his face and hands. He said that “tattoos are memories, stickers on your luggage.” In 1954, Lyle opened his own tattoo shop in San Francisco. He became a staple in the 1960s counterculture scene in SF, tattooing celebrities such as The Allman Brothers, Jim Croce, Joan Baez, and Janis Joplin. His tattooing Janis Joplin increased his visibility, along with his appearance on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine. Lyle received ongoing media coverage for some time, and is considered an important artist in terms of improving the mainstream acceptability of tattoos in American culture.


Lyle attributed much of the momentum in his early career to the women’s liberation movement, saying “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 – half 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.” Lyle traveled and was an open and present figure in the tattoo community for some time. He often attended conventions, teaching workshops on technical aspects of tattooing, such as machine maintenance. Lyle for the most part, retired in the early 1990s, though he would occasionally tattoo variations of his signature on people. Lyle passed away on March 26th of this year, at his home in Ukiah. He was 87 years old and is survived by his wife and daughter. He is missed.

That’s all for this week!

Thank you for reading,

-M.M

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