Monday, June 17, 2024

State’s leading tattoo artists spearheading effort for tattoo museum aboard the Queen Mary—and they want your support


Good Time Charlie. Long Beach’s own Kari Barba, owner of Outer Limits Tattoo, the country’s longest continually running tattoo space.  JD CroweJack RudyCorey MillerChuey Quintanar. These are the six renowned tattoo artists that have formed the board behind the Tattoo Heritage Project, a nonprofit whose singular goal is one that goes beyond skin deep: To build the country’s leading tattoo museum aboard the Queen Mary in Downtown Long Beach.

Wait—so how did a team of some of the best tattoo artists in the state form the Tattoo Heritage Project to back a tattoo museum in Long Beach?

Good Time Charlie, aka Charlie Cartwright, is more than just a tattoo legend: Beginning his ink work at the appropriate age of 15 in Wichita in 1955, the U.S. Navy eventually brought him (and other budding tattoo artists) to the shores of Long Beach—specifically the Pike and even more specifically, 22 Chestnut Pl. (or what is now known as Chestnut Avenue). It had been just a few years since famed artist Bert Grimm took over the space in what was rebranded the “Nu Pike” in the 1954 (in a rather weak attempt to begin competing with the soon-to-open Disneyland the following year and the growing popularity of Knott’s Berry Farm).

“The Pike was a naval port and tattoo parlors thrived in that area,” Charlie said. “A lot of notable tattooers got their start here, in the business.” 

In fact, Charlie met his partner-in-ink Jack Rudy, the latter of whom is the keeper of the original Good Time Charlie’s shop in Modesto. And come 2016, a cohort of staff from the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum paid Charlie and Jack a visit at the shop in the hopes to help them with a tattoo exhibit—and that they did: In 2017, the museum hosted its “Tattoo” exhibit, which explored some 5,000 years behind the art but had a very specific focus on the West Coast’s pivotal role in American tattooing, from traditional to contemporary.

The exhibit got Charlie to thinking about his own collection of tattoo artifacts: “What am I going to do with this stuff?”

Across the next several years, Charlie worked tirelessly to gather other tattoo artists—and from across the country, they began pouring in as the Tattoo Heritage Project began to formalize its presence.

Gabe Massey of Battle Royale Tattoo in Houston gathered 26 artists and held an all-day fundraising event for the effort in April of 2022, all artists tattooing traditionally inspired but original designs, with half of the artist’s take going to the nonprofit. 

“One of my goals with this shop has always been to contribute and give back whenever possible,” Massey said at the time. “I came across the Tattoo Heritage Project’s Instagram profile, I knew immediately that I wanted to contribute. I’ve organized and hosted a few tattoo-related gallery shows and have been interested in hosting a mini-convention for a few years. The idea just clicked to combine the two and have it all serve to contribute to the Project.”  

From there it grew: Donations have come in from today’s tattoo icons like Johnny QuintanaJoseph Haef, and Tokyo Hiro,  multi-media artists Antonio PelayoIsaac Pelayo, and Permanent Mark, as well as from the legendary tattoo artists themselves, including Junii Junko Shimada. And after that, came the board for the nonprofit, which hosted its first Long Beach event in October of 2022 to rally support.

Why Long Beach is the obvious choice for being home to a tattoo museum: The studio at 22 Chestnut Ave.

Kari continually points out that there were “12 tattoo shops in the Pike area alone”—and this is because it weighs particularly heavy for her: She is the owner of the very space Good Time Charlie refined his art, taking over the space in 1983 as Outer Limits and running it ever since. Even more? That studio at 22 Chestnut Ave.? It is the longest continually ran tattoo studio in the country, having been serving up ink injections since 1927.

“Tattooing is a part of every culture all over the world, if people were aware and could share this art of different forms that connect or communities in so many ways, it would be amazing,” Kari said. “And at one time there were 12 tattoo shops in the Pike area alone—that little space alone. Long Beach is rich with tattoo culture—and it deserves to be the home representing it as more than counterculture but as a genuine form of art.”

What is the Tattoo Heritage Project presenting and what it needs in terms of public support for a tattoo museum in Long Beach

They will be approaching the City of Long Beach’s Arts, Culture, and Tourism Committee today at 3PM with their proposal in the hope to not only move the project along but hopefully get some real talking going about what could be Long Beach’s next museum destination.

“Charlie’s hope is that the art of tattooing is formally recognized as a fine art, and that he will be able to create an establishment that will protect artifacts and provide a place for contemporary tattoo artists to showcase their work, not just on skin but also in multiple mediums,” said Kimiko Tokita, secretary for the Tattoo Heritage Project. “So we need people to come out in support.”

How can you support? One of two ways:

  • Show up in person at the meeting at the Civic Chambers inside 411 W. Ocean Blvd. at 3PM and speak during public comment
  • Email your public comment in support to:

What happens if the proposal for a tattoo museum in Long Beach is received and heard by the committee?

Well, not technically much; it is just a presentation—but it is a great way to promote the museum as well as get ears and mouths on it up through the City and Cultural Chain.

- Advertisement -

“The committee is the start of talks of partnering with the city in this project,” Kimiko said. “Honestly, not sure where it will go, but if we can agree to some kind of deal, then we can go back to our audience with that information to see what can be done in terms of further fundraising and awareness efforts.”

And while The Queen Mary is “expecting a proposal” according to Kimiko, the presentation toward the commission and the hopes to get a formal sanctioning from the City open up talks with the Mary.

“If the commission pushes it forward, then we will partner up with The Queen Mary,” Kari said, noting that it can be anything from a temporary exhibition for now to full-on discussions on how to implement a permanent space. “The history of tattoo is kind of going to be a little bit lost if we don’t do this museum.”

The Tattoo Heritage Project will be presenting to the Arts, Culture and Tourism Committee on Tuesday, June 4, inside the Civic Chambers inside 411 W. Ocean Blvd. at 3PM. For more information about the project, click here.

Brian Addison
Brian Addison
Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 25 nominations and three additional wins. In 2019, he was awarded the Food/Culture Critic of the Year across any platform at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Subscribe to The Insider

Get weekly updates on Long Beach's evolving culture, urban development, and food scene. Become a Longbeachize Insider today

By clicking "Subscribe," you agree to receive weekly newsletters from Longbeachize and accept our Privacy Policy posted on our website.

Read more

Popular Tags

More From Long Beach