If you’re a tattoo artist and you don’t know about Paul Rogers, Don “Doc” Lucas believes you should.
And what about Lee Roy Minugh, Lyle Tuttle, Charlie Wagner or Betty Broadbent?
Lucas thinks you should know them, too, because they’re pioneers in the tattoo industry.
That’s why he and fellow artist Adam Montegut have teamed up to open the New Orleans Tattoo Museum, where Lucas’ collection of tattoo memorabilia will be on display for the first time since he closed a similar museum in San Diego in 1991.
The museum features “flash,” the displays used by tattoo artists to advertise their work, a quirky collection of tattoo machines, pictures and tools used by those pioneering artists.
There are cases they used while traveling around the country inking their clients, and books filled with historic tattoo art and fascinating facts.
“We’re going to showcase some of the great old-timers who have made a real difference in tattooing though the years,” Lucas said. “You’ve got to know where it came from in order to know where it’s going,” Lucas said.
Montegut and Lucas will practice their craft in the back half of the 2,000-square-foot space on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Clients who come in for tattoos can take in the exhibits before or after getting their ink done, but it’s open to everyone.
Visitors will learn about Tuttle, who Lucas said is “probably the most famous tattoo artist alive right now. He’s in his mid-80s. He tattooed Janis Joplin and Peter Fonda.”
They can see cards featuring Broadbent, a Philadelphia woman born in 1904 who was one of the first women in America to cover her body in tattoos — many of them done by Wagner, a New York tattoo pioneer — and perform in circus sideshows as “The Tattooed Lady.”
There’s work by Minugh, an artist who gained fame in Long Beach, California, and Rogers, who is considered the father of the “electric” tattoo and is the subject of a biography by Lucas that was published in 1990 and recently revised and reprinted.
The partnership of Lucas and Montegut is also part of the history of the museum.
“Doc apprenticed my dad, taught my dad the ropes, and then I picked it up from my dad,” Montegut said.
“I taught his father 25 years ago and his father became a shop owner after his apprenticeship,” Lucas said.
That’s another thing you’ll learn at the museum: In the tattoo business, apprenticeships continue to be the norm.
“There is still no real written test, there’s still no real school out there. It’s still old-fashioned apprenticeships,” Lucas said.
Montegut, who has been a tattoo artist for nine years, brings a bachelor’s degree in fine arts to his role as museum curator. He’s a sculptor who decided to follow in his father’s footsteps after graduating.
Montegut’s fine arts background won’t be overlooked at the museum. He and Lucas plan to showcase other art forms there as well, and they plan to host tattoo artists from around the world.
“There’s a new Michelangelo coming into this business every day. World-class artists like this guy right here,” Lucas said, pointing at Montegut.
But the museum’s ace in the hole will no doubt be Lucas himself.
He’s a walking encyclopedia of tattoo history, his skin a canvas featuring work by more than 40 artists that covers an estimated 75 percent of his body.
He’s done hundreds, maybe thousands, of tattoos, and counts singer Aaron Neville and author Anne Rice among those sporting his ink.
The massive memorabilia collection is his property, but he’s thrilled to share it.
“I don’t get to own this stuff, I’m just the caretaker. There’s no hearse with a U-Haul in the back of it. It was here before me, it’ll be here after me. I’m just putting it together for the next generation so they have a chance to see where it all came from.”
Montegut agreed: “There are some people who see bridges as things to cross, or to burn after you cross. Then there are those of us who feel like we are the bridge.
“We can help make these connections and put these things together.”