77: Maud Stevens Wagner

77: Maud Stevens Wagner

Brain Junk
77: Maud Stevens Wagner

Born in Kansas in 1877, Maud grew up to be the first white female tattoo artist in the United States.

Show Notes:

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Maud herself
Gus Wagner Tattooing Maud Wagner
Maud and her husband, Gus Wagner


Maud Stevens Wagner http://www.theheroinecollective.com/maud-wagner/ List


Episode Transcript: 

Welcome to brain junk. I’m Amy Barton and I’m Trace Kerr and it’s time for a Brain Storm.

TK: So I found this website, theheroincollective.com heroin. It sounded weird like the lady. Yeah, like you know, male hero. Right. And they had an article about this woman named Maude Stevens Wagner.

AB: I like her name.

TK: I like her name too. You need to Google her and take a look because she is the first known female tattoo artists in the United States.

AB: Really?

TK: Yes. Born in Kansas in 1877 Maud Stevens Wagner was a young adult in Kansas. She began her career as a circus performer. She was doing acrobatics and contortionists and things like that and she worked her way up from local circuses to a bigger circus. And then she was at the St Louis World’s fair in 1904.

AB: Really?

Yup. Here we are. Circling back around. Remember for a while there, it seemed like everything happened at the Saint Louis world’s fair.
AB: Well, I think it did.

TK: Maude happened there and there she met Gus Wagner who was called the tattooed globe trotter.

AB: Awesome.

TK: And he had, uh, tattoos all over his body.

AB: I’m hoping he was bald with a map on his head.

TK: Yeah. And he was known for stick and poke tattoos.

AB: Ooh. So like the traditional tribal.

TK: Well kind of. So machines were already becoming a thing then tattoo machines and it’s got, you know, a whole bunch of little needles in there poking into the skin will stick and poke is one needle and you’re getting ink on it and then yes, you’re doing your tattoo.

AB: Oh, that sounds laborious. Dot by dot by dot.

TK: Yeah. So, and there’s some debates about how it went down, but it is thought that in return for a date. So Gus Wagner was like, Hey, contortion actually want to go out. She demanded lessons on how to Tattoo.
AB: I like the idea.

TK: So she learned how to do the stick and poke method from Wagner and they got married and she was soon covered with tattoos herself.

AB: I just looked up a picture, she totally was.

TK: Let me describe some of them. So she had a woman sitting astride, a lion on her chest, a patriotic, patriotic eagle, and an American flag on her left bicep along with her name, monkeys, horses, butterflies, trees, like palm trees, swallows. These were tattoos that were very popular at the time.

AB: Okay.

TK: And also popular for the stick and poke particular style. And as she got more tattoos on her body, not only was she tattooing other people, but then she also became a circus sideshow.

AB: She was a tattooed woman.

TK: Yeah. That would’ve been pretty rare outside of the sailors. So she was doing her contortions and things like that, but she was more of a headlining kind of thing than one of the group.
AB: So Maud, Gus, they had a daughter Loveta and Maude began teaching Lavetta the stick and poke tattoo method when she was nine.

AB: Wow. Really?

TK: Yup. But here’s the interesting thing. So Maud refused to let Gus Tattoo Lavetta and at the age of nine, well, no, as she’s getting older, you know, and she was like, I’d like a tattoo. And Mom’s like, I’m not gonna do it. Your Dad’s not going to do it. And Loveta said, if my dad can’t tattoo me, no one would. Lavetta was quite famous for being a tattoo artist and for being a tattoo artist without a single tattoo on her body.

AB: Well now that is unusual, right? Cause that’s something you don’t normally see. Usually people who do tattoos are inked. I mean there’s no space left, right?

TK: Yeah. So Maude died in 1961 in Lawton, Oklahoma. And her legacy of being a female tattoo artist in what was at the time a mostly male realm is huge. And her daughter Lavetta who died not too long ago, she was tattooing almost up into her death.

AB: Wow. So did Maud ever convert over to machine tattooing or did she stay with stick and poke?

TK: Stick and poke was pretty much your thing. I mean she used both, but that was her preferred style and it does have a different look. Um, if you go and look online at stick and poke tattoos, the lines are kind of softer because you can’t get that clean machine look like you can with the, uh, the tattoo machine.

AB: So awesome. As a tattooed lady myself. I really enjoy this one. Oh, hey. Thank you for making me happy.

TK: You’re welcome. I do what I can.

AB: Want to hear more? You can find us on Facebook and Instagram as BrainJunkPodcast. I’m pretty sure we’re playing. Oh my gosh. Do you want to do it without looking? All right, folks. We’re going to do it from memory. I’ve type this so many times. All right. Want to hear more? We’re on Facebook and Instagram as @brainjunkpodcast and you can find us on Twitter as @mybrainjunk. Something about me and Trace bringing you awesome new fun facts. Next time I will likely talk about fecal matter in farts. Come back and find us for everything you never knew you wanted to know. I guarantee you will not be bored. That’s the last thing that would ever happen. You want a better version of that? (laughing)

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