Lyle Tuttle, a tattoo artist who found his own kind of international fame by catering to celebrities while helping to move tattooing, as he put it, from the “back alley” into mainstream acceptability, died on March 26 at his home in Ukiah, Calif., where he had grown up. He was 87 (and practically covered in tattoos himself).
Lyle Gilbert Tuttle was born in Chariton, Iowa, on Oct. 7, 1931. His parents, Howard and Opal (Castor) Tuttle, were farmers who later moved to Ukiah to escape drought. His father became a contractor there.
Lyle got his first tattoo at 14, a heart emblazoned with the word “Mother,” after seeing similar tattoos on servicemen returning from World War II. He paid $3.50 for it in a San Francisco parlor.
Danielle Boiardi, the curator and manager of the Lyle Tuttle Collection, said Tuttle had been in hospice care after an inoperable growth was discovered in his throat about two weeks before he died.
These days tattoos are commonplace, inspiring clothing lines and museum shows and adorning people from all walks of life, most publicly actors, athletes and musicians. But when Tuttle first took up the needle in the late 1940s, tattoos were practically unheard-of in polite society, more associated with sailors, criminals and sideshow freaks.
Tuttle had been a tattoo enthusiast --both as an artist and as a recipient--since he was a teenager. He was mentored in the 1950s by storied tattooists like Bert Grimm, and he worked in the trade in California and in Alaska before he opened his own shop in San Francisco in 1960, wanting “to get tattooing out of the back alley,” as he told The San Francisco Chronicle in 2002.
Read the April 16, 2019 edition of the Chariton Leader for the rest of the story.