Traditional American tattoos are among the most popular of tattoo styles, with a rich history dating back to the maritime explorations of the New World in the 16th through 18th centuries. Traditional American tattoos gained in popularity following this time period and had an enormous leap in popularity during World War II, particularly among American Navy sailors. The style’s most prolific and perhaps most famous artists (due largely to recent commercialization, as well as to their talents as tattoo artists) are Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins and his protege Ed Hardy. Today their unique and instantly recognizable tattoo art is undergoing a modernization that is increasingly common in the American South. Here in Richmond, VA we have a number of incredible examples of the new Modern American Traditional style of tattoo design.
Richmond’s Take on Traditional American Tattoos
We’ve all heard the old news that Richmond is one of the most tattooed cities in the US. Lots of tattoo shops, lots of tattoos. But tattoo culture in Richmond is so much more than that. The artwork done here is unique, particularly in the way that American Traditional style tattoos incorporate visual elements of Southern culture and Southern life. We’ve collected what we think are some great examples of local Richmond tattoo artists’ take on the American Traditional style of tattoos.
If you’re looking for the history of traditional tattoos or the meaning behind the art and images used in this style, visit our American Traditional Tattoos page.
Southern Style American Traditional Tattoos
Historically, traditional American tattoos featured imagery reminiscent of sailing. Anchors, ships, ropes, (and of course women and liquor) were staples of these tattoo designs. But here in Richmond, Southern style, imagery, and ideas have crept into what might otherwise be called American Traditional tattoos.
In the Southern interpretation of American Traditional tattoos, it’s common for the classic nautical imagery to be replaced by uniquely Southern designs. Many common Southern design elements include moths (often moths common to the South, or Virginia specifically), cardinals, roosters (while not particularly Southern, their connotation of rural life meshes well with imagery of the South), tomatoes, blue jays, banjos, and a host of other imagery that carries Southern, rural, or Appalachian connotations. Other common imagery includes Magnolia or Dogwood flowers, Mason jars, lemonade, and many other images that call to mind things one would typically associate with the South.
Such imagery in tattoo art is meant to convey a person’s origins, history, or even their current location. Since much Southern imagery has a unique aesthetic appeal, it isn’t uncommon for people who aren’t Southern or lack Southern roots to still be drawn in by the beauty, simplicity, and subtlety of these tattoo designs. This, combined with the increasingly common tattoo festivals throughout the US and the world, are spreading the beauty of Southern style American Traditional tattoos to people around the country and around the world who might otherwise never have been exposed to them.
Why Southern tattoos are part of the Traditional American style
Traditional American tattoos were known for their simplicity and their individual meaning. In other tattoo cultures throughout history, a single image might have the same meaning regardless of who was wearing it. Take for example Traditional Japanese tattoos. The flowers, waves, and many other design elements of Japanese tattoos are intended to have uniform meaning so that getting a tattoo that contained these images had the same meaning. Uniform meaning in tattooing was often a way to establish rank within a society, group, or organization. American Traditional tattoos are unique in that they were one of the first tattoo styles where the meaning of the tattoo depended wholly on the person getting the tattoo.
Southern tattoos employ this same principle, but add a regional focus by utilizing imagery native to that geographic region of the United States and the culture of that region. The Southern style of Traditional American tattoos would, in all likelihood, be considered a branching and not it’s own unique style.
This Southern branching of Traditional American tattoos is one of a few wide-reaching and widely-acknowledged tattoo styles that are unique to the United States. While tattoos, particularly ones with meaning tied to the individual being tattooed, will often have a unique design element, the use of images with both universal and individual meaning is a special feature of the Southern style of American Traditional tattoos.
If you happen to be in Richmond, VA and are looking for a place to get your very own Southern style tattoo, check out our tattoo shop listing page. You’ll find all the info you need to find a local Richmond tattoo artist that can meet your design and tattoo needs.