Let's say no to the corny lines, bouquets of flowers, and chocolates and make way for some real Valentine's Day love stories. And what could be more romantic than the tale of two bad-ass tattooed circus performers finding love? Or a young girl and her tattoo artist getting hitched? In true Sailor Jerry fashion, we introduce you to two tattooed couples who left a lasting mark on tattoo culture: Gus & Maud Wagner and Rusty & Bill Skuse.
Gus & Maud Wagner
In the turn of the 20th century, tattooing was rarely seen in public except during circus sideshows. Gus Wagner helped to make the tattoo a more mainstream and accessible art form. At the age of 25 he embarked on a four-year stint as a merchant seaman. It was on his journey he met tribesmen in Borneo and Java who then taught him the art of traditional tattooing with hand-made tools. After covering his body with elaborate illustrations (claiming to have well over 264 tattoos), he dubbed himself "the most artistically marked up man in America" and promoted himself in traveling sideshows and circus performances. With his travels he spread his mark from the ports inland, integrating tattooing into small-town America. His career as a hand-poke tattooist lasted for forty some-odd years, well into the invention of the tattoo machine. In 1904 he met his soon to be wife, Maud Stevens, in St. Louis, Missouri at the World's Fair. Maud traded a date with Gus for a tattoo lesson, and the rest was history.
Maud began her career as a circus performer doing contortion and aerial acrobatics. After meeting and marrying Gus in October of 1904, she began tattooing under his apprenticeship. She passed on his hand-poked method and was one of the first woman tattooists in America. With this she set the stage for women's inclusion in tattoo culture. Together Gus and Maud had one daughter, Lovetta Wagner, who went on to become the most prominent American female tattoo artist. Unlike her famous parents, she never got inked herself.
A famous photo of Maud showing off some ink
Gus & Maud with their daughter, Lovetta
The banner used in the Wagner's sideshow act
Rusty & Bill Skuse
Les Skuse, a famous Tattoo shop in Bristol U.K. was known for the formations of the British Guild of Tattooing and the Bristol Tattoo Club, but not many knew of the romance it created between a customer and an artist.
Bill Skuse was tattooing at Les Skuse when a young girl walked in and wanted a tattoo. With her head-turning red hair, this woman went by the name of Rusty. For a young girl growing up in the 1960's, she was undeniably rebellious. Having worked in the Women’s Royal Army Corps as a driver, and having received over 64 tattoos by the age of 20, she easily caught the eye of the media. After an article was published about her stating ‘Tattooed Army Girl Get show offers’, the army warned Rusty that if any of her tattoos were exposed during service, she would immediately be discharged. This didn’t phase her one bit – she spent most of her army pay on tattoos, and was pretty much covered by age 26. With most of her ink done by her future husband, Bill Skuse, Rusty gained entry into the “Guinness Book of World Records” as Britain’s most tattooed woman and upheld her position for 20 years. Bill and Rusty’s love for tattooing not only brought them together, but also resulted into them opening their own tattoo shop in Aldershot, Hampshire, where she apprenticed under him and they both began to tattoo adoring patrons.
Rusty modelling some of her ink
Bill in his Bristol Studio