Tattoo Archive Banner Text

Clevelands Name Plate



This photo was taken in the early 1940s on Main Street, Norfolk Virginia. Left to Right is, Jack Wills, Walter Cleveland, Paul Rogers and his sons Leonard and Willis.

This photo was taken in the early 1940s
on Main Street, Norfolk Virginia.
Left to Right is, Jack Wills, Walter Cleveland,
Paul Rogers and his sons Leonard and Willis.

Cleveland is not one of the most common family names in the United States, but there have been at least five Cleveland’s in the tattoo business: Charles, Walter, Art, Trader Bob and Barefoot Bob. It is known that Art and Bob were brothers, but it is unknown if Walter was related. The Mike Skiver Collection contains some Charles Cleveland flash but the Tattoo Archive knows nothing else about him. Barefoot Bob is the only living Cleveland and his interest in finding out more information on the other Cleveland’s spurred us to do this research.

I believe that Walter was the oldest of the Cleveland’s so we will start with him. Walter Cleveland tattooed in Columbus, Georgia in at least three different locations on Broadway, #934-936 and 940. He also tattooed in Norfolk, Virginia, perhaps with Jack Wills in Main Street. Other than a few business cards, photographs and a novel tattoo machine, little is left of Walter Cleveland’s history. Walter Cleveland was not thought of as a supplier, but his tattoo machine is worthy of some note. The frame was a single up-right design but the back spring mount was cut and a fulcrum type armature bar was used. The way the armature bar was designed, a rubber band replaced the back spring.

Walter Cleveland machine illustration by Greg Iron, 1981.

Walter Cleveland machine
illustration by Greg Iron,
1981.

This was not a specially cast frame featuring this set-up, a standard twin coil frame was modified for the pivoting “A” Bar. Other versions of this frame design have been built, sometimes using a spring instead of a rubber band. These are often seen in a olive drab green finish that makes them look like a military issue item.

Walter Cleveland's business card showing the move to #940 Broadway in Columbus GA, 1950s. The marked out address is unknown.

Walter Cleveland's business card
showing the move to #940 Broadway
in Columbus GA, 1950s.
The marked out address is unknown.

In the book Stoney Know How, Stoney St. Clair remembered Walter Cleveland as a friend. Stoney said that Cleveland was originally from New Hampshire. He got part of his hand blown off in World War 1and had to wear a clamp on his hand for tattooing. Stoney went onto say that Walter Cleveland invented several tattoo machine styles and that you could not go visit without him giving you a machine.

Now we can move on the Art and Bob Cleveland, I suspect they were in the tattoo business for many years, but the only history the Archive has is of them is in St Louis, Missouri from the 1950s-60s up to the early 1970s. Several sheets of their flash has survived.

In a 1982 letter Mitch Mitchell wrote that he thought that Trader Bob Cleveland bought the #716 Broadway shop in St. Louis from Sailor Larry or Art and Fay Balch, he was not sure. But it was in the mid to late 1950s after Bert Grimm left that location for the Nu Pike in Long Beach, CA. The McKinney’s bought Trader Bob out in early 1968, but Trader Bob worked for them until 1973 or 1974. Mitch started working for them in 1975 and when they tore down the building in 1978 to build a parking lot, Mitch got the entire contents of the building.

Shopfront photo of #716 North Broadway, 1970s.

Shopfront photo of #716 North Broadway, 1970s.


Tattoo Archive © 2010


Red Divider Line

Find items related to The Cleveland's in our online store: Postcard, Tools of the Trade

Go to Previous ArticleGo to Next Article