July 3–October 13, 2013
In conjunction with Harley-Davidson’s 110th anniversary celebration, the Museum presents its first tattoo exhibition, highlighting the work of Amund Dietzel, who came to Milwaukee in 1913. This exhibition celebrates one hundred years since Dietzel’s arrival, and in the midst of what many consider a renaissance of tattooing, the Museum is proud to present the work of one of its earliest masters. Dietzel helped define the look of the “traditional” or “old school” tattoo, kept the practice alive through two world wars, and passed on his craft to future generations.
Born in Kristiania, Norway, Dietzel (1891–1974) learned the art of hand-tattooing on a Norway merchant ship. When the ship was wrecked off the coast of Quebec, Dietzel and a few others decided to stay. Dietzel traveled with his close friend William Grimshaw, working carnivals as tattooed men and tattooing between shows.
Passing through Milwaukee at twenty-three, Dietzel decided to make the city his home. He opened a tattoo parlor and soon had a reputation as the region’s premier tattoo artist—and the one to whom World War I and II sailors and Marines went before leaving for battle. In 1964 at the age of seventy-three, Dietzel sold his shop to his friend Gib “Tatts” Thomas. The two worked together in the studio until the city banned tattooing, effective July 1, 1967. “At least it took the city fifty-one years to find out that it doesn’t want me,” said Dietzel.
Tattoo draws exclusively from the Solid State Tattoo Collection, courtesy of Jon Reiter. Reiter, himself a Milwaukee-based tattoo artist, has spent years amassing a collection of Dietzel “flash” (tattoo design drawings) and peripheral Dietzel Studio material. In addition to collecting the artist’s work, Reiter has carefully researched Dietzel’s life and published a two-volume catalogue of his creative output, These Old Blue Arms: The Life and Work of Amund Dietzel.
Courtesy of Jon Reiter and Solid State Tattoo Collection, Milwaukee