The year was 2001 and a few friends and I were at the Miami Tattoo Convention evening awards ceremony in the Grand Ballroom........and I’m guessing we paid extra to be sitting there in addition to our tickets of regular admission.
I had only been tattooing about a year so naturally I was intimidated and frankly terrified to be sitting among some of the greats at the time. Artists I had only just read about in my precious tattoo magazines. Looking around us I saw the biggest names in the industry and the lifelong bonds that they shared were obvious.
I was envious when they took turns winning the major awards that I could only dream about getting some day.
One by one, they each got their few minutes at the mic and everyone in the packed ballroom shushed to listen to what they had to say. The voices in my head were telling me that I didn’t belong here because I was such a newbie. I was out of my league and felt like an imposter even eating the same food as everyone else. The din was getting louder when suddenly I heard the name Huck Spaulding. Then everything went quiet.
Huck Spaulding was from my home town. He ran, arguably, the most feared and respected business in the neighboring hill town. He was the founder of Spaulding and Rogers Manufacturing. He was, with Paul Rogers, the world’s biggest tattoo supplier.
From the 50’s well into the 90’s they were practically the only game in town and the undisputed worldwide leader of tattoo machines, tattoo needles and tattoo ink. This list also included copious amounts of flash, the dreaded “kits”, and everything else that goes into making a tattoo, all made on his property.
His full-page, all-color ad promoting his tattoo supply biz graced the back cover of literally EVERY tattoo magazine in publication every single month. That was Huck. Go big or go home.
He sold the dreaded “kit” before there was ever such thing as Ebay or Amazon. He made tattooing accessible to the masses. And that’s how I got in.
Hubby worked briefly at Spaulding and Rogers in the needle department. On Day 1, Bob, his supervisor told him that if one itty bitty cigarette butt lands on the pavement in the parking lot, just pack it up and leave. Because Huck didn’t fool around.
Hubby ended up trading some homemade tattoo needles for a Spaulding tattoo kit that he gave me for Christmas and the rest of the madness is history……but I digress. Back to the Ballroom in Miami....
I don’t remember what big name artist quipped, into the mic up on the stage: “……yeah well, at least I’m not Huck Spaulding!”
The room erupted with nervous titters and outright laughter.
My friends and I were in total shock. Are they really dissing, as a unit, the grouchy maverick from our hometown of Voorheesville, NY? We were 1500 miles away from home and yet the angst clearly flowed across the miles. At that moment I was intrigued and wondered what anyone could have done to piss off an entire industry like that. I wanted to find out.
I’m sure it wasn’t because he eventually threatened to burn down my hubby’s tattoo needle shop. That was just Huck. And it wasn’t when he drove cross-country just because someone owed him $200 bucks. And it wasn’t because he owned 5 brand-new candy apple red viper sports cars, one for each day of the week. It was because he brought tattooing out of the clandestine alley and into the hands of anyone crazy enough to want to poke someone else with needles and ink. He opened a passageway where there wasn't one before. He allowed entry into an otherwise closed "secret society" of underground tattooers.
Huck passed away in 2013 after a long battle with various maladies. I still have my little shiny stinger machine that buzzes like an angry yellow jacket. The warehouses on the hill with the pristine parking lot now sit empty. China does most of tattoo manufacturing these days so it’s too hard to compete.
I’m grateful to Huck for selling those kits. Kits that welcomed me into the colorful world of tattooing.
And Huck, those big shots at the Tattoo Convention, we can’t remember their names, but everyone still knows yours.
-L. Fasulo 11/12/2017