Tattooing…a dead art?

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Tattoo artist Cap Coleman in front of his East Main Street store. Taken by Museum photographer William Radcliffe, July 1936. (Accession# P873)

Many of you are probably aware that the Museum holds a wonderful collection of materials once used by the world famous Norfolk tattooist August Bernard Coleman, known as Cap Coleman. Our Coleman materials are one of our most popular and regularly requested collections for both private viewings and for loan to other institutions. Right now, the figurine of the “Tattooed Man” is currently on display at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts in an exhibition about fashion and design.

A couple of weeks ago a friend at Peabody Essex connected me with Nonie Gadsden, the Katharine Lane Weems Senior Curator of American Decorative Arts and Sculpture at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.  Nonie was in the process of coordinating the acquisition of an object for their collection [Since the MFA hasn’t formally announced it yet I won’t spoil their surprise by telling you what it is!] and had some questions about our Coleman collection and how we acquired it. Answering those questions revealed a rather surprising motivation behind the Museum’s decision to acquire the materials.   Read more

The art of the tattoo

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P873ColemansPlace

We have many collections to be proud of here at The Mariners’ Museum, but one of our most popular, which also happens to be one of my favorite, is the collection of tattoo pieces that belonged to the famed August “Cap” Coleman.  Coleman opened shop in Norfolk in 1918, but was forced out after WWII due to a law was passed in Norfolk making tattooing illegal.

Our collection of Coleman objects came to us through the years, with the bulk being purchased directly from Coleman in 1936.  Two of my favorite pieces are sheets of tattoo designs that were both signed by Coleman, making them extra special (pictured below).  The designs are are very colorful and showcase Coleman’s artistic ability.   Read more