A Treasure Trove of Antique Tattoo Flash is Found in Corpus Christi
By Craig Hlavaty
This weekend, Peveto Art Gallery will display 20 sheets of historic tattoo flash art that were recently found in an abandoned house in Corpus Christi. According to gallery owner Scott Peveto, the flash looks to be over 100 years old. The items were rescued from a Dumpster by a man who cleans out houses that are tagged to be torn down.
“I’ve spent enough time with them to know they are real,” said Peveto. The sheets are water and nicotine-stained and more than likely were originally displayed on the walls of a tattoo shop for customers to choose pieces from.
The art is on heavy illustration board and shows signs of wear from push pins. Artist names are included on most.
“The majority of them are by the same artist,” said Peveto. You can really pinpoint the ones that don’t quite go with the others.
Peveto is looking to sell half the lot at a public unveiling of the exhibit Saturday night at his Montrose gallery. He said he is going to ask around $2,000 per sheet. The exhibit opens at 6 p.m.
Peveto said the work predates the art of Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins, who made his name tattooing sailors, rebels, and rogues. Sailor Jerry’s name is now on rum bottles, art galleries, dorm posters, baby clothes, and his artwork can be found re-imagined on skin all over the world.
A friend of Peveto’s who is a longtime sailor noticed that one piece looked particularly familiar.
“He said that the one piece of flash looks very much like Teddy Roosevelt’s ‘Great White Fleet’ that circumnavigated the globe from 1907 to 1909,” said Peveto. That could mean that the artist had drawn up the design for customers who had been aboard the ships. Or it just looked cool.
Corpus would have been a convenient spot for sailors to get tattoo work done given its proximity to the Gulf. Today, the city maintains a thriving tattoo scene with hotspots like Shipwreck Tattoo.
Bruce Morgan out at Shipwreck and his colleagues aren’t so sure the flash is the work of a homegrown Texas artist. They think it’s more of an East Coast-style. Texas tattoo flash from this era would probably have more Texicana involved, like state flag, cowboy, or yellow rose imagery, Morgan said.
“It could have been someone’s collection from their travels,” said Morgan. Even still he’s very curious about the collection’s lineage. He’d like a fellow tattoo artist to acquire them for their own collection.
“We tattooers try our best to keep tattoo-related history in our own family,” he said.