When Lyle Tuttle, the San Francisco artist known as “the granddaddy of modern American tattooing,” died on Monday, March 25, at the age of 87, he was remembered as a social pioneer who pushed tattoos toward mainstream acceptance, especially for women.
He left his indelible mark on stars including Janis Joplin, Joan Baez and Cher.
Scott, who works just around the corner from Tuttle’s namesake studio in North Beach, penned this tribute for The Chronicle shortly after Tuttle’s death:
Lyle Tuttle was a tattooer with a tremendous influence on the radical culture of San Francisco. He wove together the old craft of tattooing with the visionary aesthetics and philosophy of the freedom we prize in this fair city.
I was lucky enough to see him on a regular basis around North Beach, where his shop is across from Tattoo City, Ed Hardy’s shop. Lyle was always kind to me and always had a crazy story to tell and a bad joke up his sleeve. He called me his “future ex-wife.”
One day, Lyle came into Tattoo City to shoot the breeze. I asked him if he was still putting on many tattoos and he said, “Yes, but usually only one a day.” I asked him if he had done one yet that day and he said, “No, would you like one?” I said sure, and set up my station for him.
So he tattooed his iconic signature on my tattooing arm, complete with the Libra zodiac scales. Afterward, I asked him how much money he wanted for it and he refused to take anything. I thanked him from the bottom of my heart for his generosity and the connection to the past that he kept alive and burning.
It felt like a little window into old San Francisco when you talked to Lyle.
Later, I got worried that Ed might not like it that I let Lyle tattoo me in his shop. They are great friends, but you never know. Sometimes old currents of competition or animosity will run deep where you least expect it in the tattoo world.
Ed grinned slyly at me and asked how much I paid for the tattoo. I said it was gratis, and he proceeded to call Lyle right there. He said, “I hear you’ve been tattooing in my shop, Lyle. I want my PC (his cut of the dough)!” They had a good laugh about it and I was relieved.
Lyle Tuttle was always “on,” the quintessential showman who would always offer you a joke, a story, some pictures. His generosity of spirit and lust for life was contagious. He kept that ’60s starchild dream alive. He reminded us all that being a freaky weirdo is cool.
He also worshiped the old masters of tattooing like Bert Grimm (who tattooed Lyle’s bodysuit), George Burchett and Brooklyn Joe Lieber, to name a few.
Lyle told incredible stories of the unique people that made tattooing what it is today. He also opened a whole new generation of people up to tattooing by famously tattooing Janis Joplin and appearing on the cover of Rolling Stone.
I will miss Lyle’s spark of life and his friendliness. He was a pillar of San Francisco tattooing and counterculture, and this city will never be the same without him.
— Mary Joy Scott
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