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Tattoo Interview with Chuck Eldridge

Tattoo Interview with Chuck Eldridge

TFI: Chuck, you always said that tattooing was a childhood dream of yours. How does the dream compare to the reality?
Chuck Eldridge:
You know, childhood dreams are always a little bit more candy-coated. There was a program in our elementary school to keep us off the street, they would hold big parties and one of the booths they set up there was a tattoo booth. One of the high school students would come over with magic markers and draw up designs and paste them on the wall and then he would do "tattoos" – I used to get my arms just completely covered with these and I would get so many that the guy doing the drawings would say "I’m not doing any more on you because your mom is going to kick my ass." -- I think [the dream] measures up. I always saw myself with loads of tattoos on my arm so that came true.

TFI: Who were the artists that influenced you in the early days?
Chuck Eldridge:
I went into the Navy and that threw me into San Diego for bootcamp for ten or eleven weeks and there I did not know any names. This was in ’65. There were no names going around in my brain where I said ‘Oh my God I got to get a tattoo by him.’ In San Diego in ’65 that was the height of the Vietnam War so there were tons of tattooists. Basically I just started going in [shops] looking at designs on the wall and then getting in line to get tattooed. The shops there would be lined up. All the way in the shop and sometimes out on the sidewalk in front of the shop. And in the shop were five tattooists tattooing as fast as they could.
Only when you got into the business you started hearing some names and then you actually started looking for people and searching them out. The first one that I really travelled to get tattooed by was Cliff Raven. Buy that was actually after the Navy.

TFI: What are your favourite styles of tattooing?
Chuck Eldridge:
Traditional. American and European stuff – Sailor Jerry and earlier. I would say 1840’s till about 1940s.

TFI: Is this what you like to do yourself best as well?
Chuck Eldridge:
Yes I enjoy doing this as well. And now that style is kind of coming back so I get to do quiet a bit of it.

TFI: Do you have a favourite tattoo on yourself?
Chuck Eldridge:
(looking around on his arms) You know I don’t. It kind of changes depending on my mood. I don’t really have one that stays the favourite every day.

TFI: The shop is closed, all flash is drawn all workplaces are clean. What do you like doing in your spare time?
Chuck Eldridge:
Bicycling. Bicycling. Bicycling. Or I go out antiquing looking for more tattoo stuff.

TFI: So there is never really a day off?
Chuck Eldridge:
You know that is the other side doing a thing you love. If you are doing what you love, there is never a day off.

TFI: If there was one thing you could change about the tattoo business, what would it be?
Chuck Eldridge:
Suppliers with their starter kits. I would change this. I think this is really hurting the business because it short-changed the apprenticeship procedure. People getting their supplies and they work out of their kitchens and they don’t have any guidance. Not only with the technical stuff but with the history too. You cant learn that from Huck’s [Spaulding] “A-Z book”. It created a whole generation of tattooists that don’t have a lot of background when it comes to the history of the business or the ethics of the business.

TFI: How did the tattoo archive start and why?
Chuck Eldridge:
It basically started out of my interest in collecting. For years I would travel and if I found [tattoo] postcards I would buy one and it went in my collection. And people began to see my collection and they would say ‘That’s a great card, where did you get it?’ And then I’d think and remembered, there was ten of them on that rack, why didn’t I just pick all of those up for 50 cents each? So I decided to do that and that started the whole archive story.

TFI: What is the relationship between the archive and the Paul Rogers Research Center?
Chuck Eldridge:
They are housed in the same building. That is the major connection. When Paul died he left his collection to the Archive. So then we formed a “Non-Profit” in his name and that’s the Research Center.
The Non-Profit was also in a way formed to protect my collection. I want my collection to go into that Non-Profit when I die.

TFI: The Tattoo Archive web page has only a fraction of your collection online. Is this just meant as a teaser?
Chuck Eldridge:
Oh no. The whole catalogue will be online eventually, but it is a massive project. We are banging away five or six items a day, and with 500+ items it can take us three quarters of a year to get that whole catalogue up.

TFI: And the things that you are selling are these overstock cards that you have?
Chuck Eldridge:

TFI: Which is a good segue way to the next question anyway: How is the Archive funded next to these sales?
Chuck Eldridge:
My tattooing and a little bit the sale of the items. But basically the tattooing keeps the bills paid and it is the biggest contributor.

TFI: We heard something about a move. Will the Tattoo Archive move out of California?
Chuck Eldridge:
Yes, the move is happening. 30 years in California has been enough, so we are looking at Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Paul was from North Carolina and we really want to take Paul’s stuff back there to build this museum. I think it is more appropriate to have Paul Rogers museum in North Carolina rather than California. North Carolina is my home as well. At 18 I could not wait to get away from North Carolina, but at 57 it looks very inviting now.

TFI: You are involved a lot with tattoo history. Where will it go?
Chuck Eldridge:
That’s a good question. And it is what the journalists always want to know, but I gave up to second-guess what we are doing.

TFI: Are we in the middle of a hype now?
Chuck Eldridge:
I don’t know. It is really strange: I spend so much time looking back as a historian… looking into the future the crystal ball is really murky.

Chuck Eldridge Business Card

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