TATTOO TIME IN THE NETHERLANDS
Text and photos by Paul Sayce
Tattoo Road Trip columnist (1001 Tattoo Facts) Paul Sayce shares a once-in-a-lifetime adventure at Amsterdam’s newest museum. Many thanks to Paul for his just-like-being-there coverage and the countless photos (actually, 180) he took of the event and the surrounding neighborhoods.
If ever there has been a City built for fun and games, it’s Amsterdam. As not only is it capital of Holland, it is also one of the greats in terms of culture and the classics. Beautiful medieval buildings stand beside more contemporary Dutch houses that are built going up rather then wide, because of lack of building land. A city surrounded by a canal system that is not only unique but has the honor of being listed as a World Heritage Site, alongside some of the great locations of our planet, like the Pyramids of Giza, Australia’s Uluru (Ayes Rock) and North America’s very own Statue Of Liberty. And, if indeed, you are into history, then you would be hard pressed to find a better place to feed your habit Amsterdam, for the city is packed with museums that represent just about everything and anything.
You can take in the Stedelijk Museum, a shrine to modern art, the historic Anne Frank Huis (House) at 263 Prinsengracht, where Anne wrote her diary “Kitty,” the Rijksmuseum, the Nederlands Filmmusum, Museum Van Loon, House Boat Woonboot Museum, Nederlands Scheevaart Museum, Vereniging Museum Haven, Arcam Architectuur Museum, Joods Historic Museum, Kit Tropen-Museum, Jewish Museum, Torture Museum and the Cannabis museum. There is even a Vincent Van Gogh museum that boasts more paintings by the Dutch master then anywhere else in the world. And don’t forget Rembrandt, with his work being based in Rembrandthuis, the dwelling where the great man not only painted his masterpieces but also lived, a place not a stones throw from a multitude of other wonderful museums to visit. You get the drift.
Amsterdam loves a museum, and that is why I thought, for a sense of adventure, I would jump on a bus in London, England, to relay and give you some idea just how easy it is to get to Holland’s capital and visit the newest museum on the block and a museum that the tattooing world has been waiting for, Henk Schiffmacher’s Amsterdam Tattoo Museum.
So, picture the scene, if you will. It’s 9:30 p.m., on a Friday evening of the 4th of November, 2011. I boarded a full-to-capacity Eurolines coach at London’s Victoria Coach Station for a two-and-a-half hour drive down to Dover in Kent, where, after a short wait, the coach driver drove the vehicle onto the ferry that would, in an hour and a half, hit the street’s of Calais, in France.
That was it for me, as I slept my way through the French countryside and didn’t even see Belgium. I only woke when we were an hour away from our first stop in Utrecht, where we dropped off a couple of people, picked none up and were on our way again, until were pulled up at our final stop at Amstel Bus Station at 9:40 a.m., Saturday the 5th of November, 2011, eleven hours and fifty minutes after leaving London, paying forty-four English pounds for my return ticket. Next it was a very short walk across the car park and into Amstel’s ultramodern railway station, where I paid four-Euro-fifty for another return ticket to Amsterdam Centraal and back to here, as I was leaving and heading back to London later that evening, a day tripper if ever there was one.
It takes eight minutes from Amstel to Amsterdam Centraal on trains that arrive every few minutes. So, just before ten in the morning, I was out into the rush of people who were going about their business on a glorious, warm November morning, which is saying something in this seaport city, as it can be quite murderous, when it comes to the cold blowing in from the sea. Then I walked through the red light district and, yes, some of the girls were still at their posts touting business. It might be noted that I was just using the route as a means to cut through and get to my goal, the tattoo museum.
On the way, I walked passed where the old Amsterdam Tattoo Museum once stood at Oudezijds Achterburgwal 130, in the red light district of De Wallen. And as I did, I recalled all the happy times I had spent there in the past with Ron Ackers and a few others, who are sadly no longer with us and have passed off into tattoo heaven.
It’s a fifteen-minute walk to the new museum for a fit young thing, but if walking is not your bag, you can jump on tram number 9, which will drop you right outside the museum at 62 Plantage Middenlaan, right opposite Artis Zoo You can also get the number 10 and jump off at Alexanderplein or get the metro to Waterloopplein, all stops that will drop you near where you want to be. It’s that easy, although the number 9 tram is your best bet and will cost you two-Euros-60 from Centraal Station to the museum’s front door.
With the time being just about 10:30 a.m., there were already a number of invited tattooed people waiting outside for the 12 noon start and 12:30 p.m. opening ceremony. I was lucky because one of the people staffing the front door was a very dear friend of mine, whom I hadn’t seen in years, called Brigitte Salezius, who promptly let me in, so I could freshen up and take a look around before the masses piled in.
And, when the doors did open, it was a real blast from the past, seeing old friends and faces again, Tin-Tin, Filip, Titine and Loretta Leu, Jack Rudy, Martin Robson, Annemarie Beers, Lucky Bastard, Danny Dringenberg, Running Bear, Henning Jorgensen, Oliver Peck, Mick Of Zurich, Paul Ramsbottom, Willy Robinson, Tattoo Molly, Tycho Veldhoen, Danny Boy, Gippi Rondinella, Marco Pisa, Greg Orie, Bill Loika, George Bone, Terry Bartram, Lal Hardy, Mao, Dennis Cockell, Goodtime Charlie Cartwright, Luke Atkinson, Charlie Roberts, Kate Hellenbrand, Jimmie Skuse, Jim Orie, Luke Wessman, Vinnie Stones, Tommy Lee Lewis, Fernando Pons Squer, Joe Robo, Captain Caveman, Hollywood Mark, James Sandercock and my good friend Henk Van Der Putten and so many more names I can’t recall. In fact, there was a young guy giving out free tokens for drinks and you could have as many as you liked. Jack Daniels had there own bar and, again, all the drinks were free (for us, the invited, that is). And a team of very nice staff worked their socks off in keeping us all well fed.
But while everyone was enjoying themselves, I was still having a good look around. Boy, was I impressed. It was like tattoo Christmas, with the ground floor consisting of cabinets displaying cultural historic tattooing artifacts from the likes of Japan, New Zealand, India, Samoa and Borneo. There were also beautiful mockup dwellings from some of the Countries represented. Sitting beside pieces of tattooed skin in formaldehyde filled bottles, wooden artifacts from the Borneo headhunter regions, a Maori display, fantastic bronze busts and photographs of African scarification, Japanese figurines and a piece of Scrimshaw (which is the engraving of ivory teeth or bone taken from the sperm whale), that looks very much like tattooing designs practiced and started by sailors, when the Dutch ruled the world in the whaling industry of the late 17th and early 18th centuries, and long before the British and Americans joined in.
Upstairs, on the first floor, was where the most modern items of the tattoo world, in regard to the electro magnetism tattoo machines, were displayed, with implements from the late 19th century up to the late 1970s, including a shop front and interior display of items from the late great Tattoo Peter (de Haan), including some of Peter’s machines and a wall of his designs sitting beside a wonderful, giant picture of the tattoo legend himself, just above the staircase. Photographs, catalogs, design sheets, posters, a mocked-up bar from the legendary Bristol Tattoo Club and just about everything else you would wish to see in a tattoo museum, including Eddie Funk’s famous old yellow jacket that Eddie’s wife once cut to pieces in a fit of temper (but now back together and lovingly being displayed). Believe me, if you can’t find what you are looking for here, tattooing wise, you won’t find it anywhere.
Another nice touch and very handy was the room of lockers, where you can leave your personal items locked away in safety. That on the top floor is a coffee shop, where one can sit, eat and relax, and not worry about the stairs, as there is a lift, so anyone and everyone can take in the whole museum with ease.
The museum is spread over three buildings, known in Holland as Villas. The entry fee is ten Euros and there is a super bookshop that offers many a splendid read via the written word. In fact, it’s more of a tattoo souvenir shop, where you can buy T-shirts, mugs, postcards, posters, notepads, pens and all sorts of tattooing related items, including the new book on the Mingins family, who were a pioneering tattooing father-and-two-sons team working in 20th century England and Australia respectively, which not only gives the feel of a real museum, in being able to buy bits and bobs, it all helps in keeping the buildings ticking over economically.
There was also live tattooing taking place, later on in the day, and Petelo Sulu’ape hand-tattooing in the Samoan way. Yushio Takei of Japan also worked as did Great Britain’s Jimmie Skuse, but not until the man himself, Henk Schiffmacher (Hanky Panky) did the first tattoo to mark the museum’s opening. Jack Rudy tattooed and then got tattooed by Hanky. And Daniel Sawyer put on a tattoo or two. There were others who worked and christened the building, before the evening started and the public was let in at 7 p.m. to party the night away and view the museum until closing time at 2 a.m. the next morning.
There is also a library and study center that will hold over 1,500 books and magazines on the subject of tattooing and, not only that, there will also be many personal scrap books of old business cards, photographs, newspaper clippings and flyers that depict a great history and will enable a wonderful study of the art for so many in the future. It must be added that the library and study center are for serious research only, as sadly, during the museums former life, the public were none to graceful, when it came to looking after the books. So, from now on, you will have to gain permission first, before being let loose on the volumes, and rightly s, as this is our history and it needs to be kept intact and safe.
Schiffmacher, the man behind all of this, is charismatic and, without doubt, dedicated to the art of tattooing, as is Henk’s wife, Louise, and their daughter, Morrison, who have also worked hard along with everybody else in making this a dream come true; finally giving the art of tattooing a place and museum it so richly deserves. But there is one very special person of whom we owe a great deal and that lady is Jeanette Seret, who not only made a fortune running re-integration projects for disadvantaged people, she also gave one-million-five-hundred-thousand Euro’s of her own money to make this tattooing museum into a reality. A great woman with a good heart.
There is more then enough to do at any one time in Amsterdam. So, do your self a favor, jump on the bus, take in the sights, have fun and visit the Amsterdam Tattoo Museum, when you’re in town. You won’t be disappointed.
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