Chrome your bumpers, get tattooed

Why would I write a story about a tattoo artist? because in 1973, this guy was the ONLY tattoo artist working in Maine (in 2013, the state of Maine issued 196 tattooing licenses).

By ARTHUR FREDERICK

NEWPORT, Maine (UPI) — Tom Breitweg can chrome your bumpers and tattoo a battleship on your belly while you wait.

Breitweg runs a chrome plating shop a short distance from his home here. But it is in the room over his kitchen that “Tats Tommy,” Maine’s only tattoo artist, does his finest work.

“I learned years and years ago in New Jersey,” Breitweg said. “My uncle taught me. He was one of the oldest down in Jersey; did a lot of handwork, you know, like Japanese handwork. I’ve yet to find anyone who can do handwork like he could.”

The Japanese, apparently, are revered in the tattoo artists’ ranks. Or at least by Tats.

“Some of those Japanese pieces take months,” he said. “They’re all over the body. When they die they take the skins off.”

popeyes-tattooThe apprenticeship to his uncle ended in 1939, and Breitweg went into the Navy where he polished his craft and collected a few tattoos of his own.

“I twirled the needle in the Navy. And I had some done on myself, too. I had one done just about every time I stopped,” he said.

Breitweg said he has between 30 and 40 tattoos, including a huge eagle and an American flag flanked by roses on his chest.

“Fellow did that for me in Australia,” he said.

Tattooing was never outlawed in Maine, but several years ago many shops were closed for violations of health codes. Tats Tommy’s place, with a huge eagle-and-battleship sign on the front lawn, is the only tattooing parlor left.

“They weren’t going to put the okay on that sort of thing,” Breitweg said about the disreputable shops. “Which is understandable. It’s like a doctor’s office; you don’t like to see a lot of dust or dead mice around.”

Business is less than brisk, Breitweg said, and the customers have changed a good deal over the years, with women coming in more and more often.

“There’s a lot more women coming in today than 10 years ago,” he said. “You wouldn’t believe it. There’s about as many women now as men.”

Most of the women are between 18 and 33, Breitweg said, and most prefer “the small cameo-type — zodiacs, roses, butterflies, things like that.”

It wasn’t always roses and butterflies.

“Some years ago it could be pretty rank,” he said. “People wanted dirty tattoos, or they wanted designs in, ah, unusual areas.”

Maine does not allow tattoos on the hands, face or below the waist.

Breitweg’s fees are low, he says, compared to tattooists on the West Coast. He said his charge for a large eagle on the chest is $50.

“There’s a guy out on the West Coast I know about who tattooed a pair of fishnet briefs on a girl, and he got $1,000 for it,” he said. “You just don’t get5those prices around here.”

But Breitweg’s clientele comes from all over to get their skin pictures.

“”I got a fellow coming up from Pennsylvania this weekend,” he said. “A couple of months ago I did a pair of spiders on his shoulders. Now we’re going to do a dragon on his back. Later on, we’re going to try to work up some bats around it, and maybe a web around the whole thing.”

“Eventually, he said, “it will be a good back piece.”

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One thought on “Chrome your bumpers, get tattooed

  1. I had a wolf tattoo from Tatts Tommy. That was when I was about 20. Approximately 15 years later I wanted it redone but he had passed away 😦 it was kinda cool to have a tattoo done by the first licensed tattoo artist in Maine!

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