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For the Record: Jack Redcloud

Courtesy of Tattoo Archive: I recently came across an ad in The New York Times for prints from Edwards S. Curtis’ Native American photographs. Curtis is well-known for his images of the fading American Indian’s way of life. One of the images offered in this advertisement was for the Oglala Sioux Chief Jack Red Cloud (1862-1928). This got me to thinking about our Jack Redcloud, the tattooist who made his name tattooing in Brooklyn, New York.

Unlike the Indian chief, Jack Redcloud the tattooist always spelled his last name as one word. Maybe this was out of respect for the famous chief. At one time his shop was known as Redcloud Jack’s, but in the later years he was referred to as Jack Redcloud…

Although Jack Redcloud made his name tattooing near the Brooklyn Navy Yards on Sands Street, Eddie Funk remembered that he also worked at #14 Scollay Square in Boston and #617 Beacon Street in San Pedro, CA. Because of its proximity to the Navy Yards, Sands Street had several tattooists throughout the years. Historical records show Jack Redcloud at #176 and #129 Sand Street with Phil Duane at #125 and Lew Alberts at #87.

The Brooklyn Navy Yards has a history that goes back to the American Revolution when this waterfront site was used to build merchant ships. The US government bought the old docks and forty acres of land for $40,000 and in 1806 it became an active US Navy shipyard. Such legendary ships as the Maine and the battle ships North Carolina and Iowa were launched there. During its peak in World War II, the shipyard employed about 70,000 thousand men working around the clock. This may explain the news article that said Redcloud didn’t go to work in his tattoo shop until 6 or 7 p.m. and worked until dawn.

Jack Redcloud had one of those tattoos that is not easily forgotten, the head of Christ on his head done by Bob Wicks. The story goes that Redcloud got this tattoo to win a sideshow contract in the 1920s. Photos of this tattoo have been circulated for years and remains one of the few photos of Bob Wicks.

In Michael McCabe’s landmark book, New York City Tattoo: The Oral History of an Urban Art, Brooklyn Blackie spoke of visiting Redcloud’s shop on Sands Street where Jonesy made machines and power packs in the back. In 1958 when the whole of Sands Street was torn down, Redcloud took a day job as an elevator operator and on Saturdays he worked with Blackie. Jack Redcloud died from a heart attack in the early 1960s.

Redcloud captions

  1. White-hat sailors getting tattooed by Jack Redcloud, 1940s.
  2. Bob Wicks tattooing Jack Redcloud’s head, 1920s.
  3. Jack Redcloud at work. Note shop sign in the background reading “Redcloud Jack’s”, 1930s.
  4. Eagle/shield design from Jack Redcloud’s shop, 1940s, Michael McCabe Collection.
  5. Red Cloud Brand citrus label, 1930s.
  6. Mermaid design from Jack Redcloud’s shop, 1940s, Michael McCabe Collection.
  7. Chief Jack Red Cloud was the son of Red Cloud, one of the fiercest enemies the US Army ever fought.
  8. Red Cloud led the successful Indian Campaign known as Red Cloud’s War between 1866-1868.

Tattoo Archive © 2008

This installment of For the Record was featured in Tattoo Artist Magazine issue #16.

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