Tattoo History | Cindy Ray | Atlanta Tattoo Shop
Tattooing, for a very long time, has been a very sealed, underground, essentially male-dominated subculture. And prior to the 1960s, women in tattooing were quite the anomaly. It was almost exclusively military, bikers, and carny folk that got tattooed. It was extremely taboo for women and civilians to be tattooed at all, far less to be heavily tattooed. In this publication of Gate City’s Monthly Tattoo History blog, we’ll take a look at one of the most iconic trail blazers when it comes to lady tattooers and tattooers in general.
Bev “Cindy Ray” Nichols, the classy lassie with the tattooed chassis. Nichols was just the average single mother who stumbled upon an advertisement in her local newspaper for paid models. Looking for ways to support her family, Nichols found herself in contact with eccentric Melbourne photographer Harry Bartram, who would ultimately create the image of “Cindy Ray”.
One could say Bartram used the image of Cindy Ray to his advantage and exploited her, as she would become one of the first and most notable tattooed models in modern tattooing time. He profited off her image, while she would essentially get nothing. Bartram sold pictures of her all over the world through a mail order service that would be extremely successful, but Nichols would reap none of the benefits. While she essentially got tattooed for free, Bartram promised her wealth and notoriety, and she saw none of that while he saw the benefits tenfold, through tattoo publications, books, and the kits he sold.
Aside from being Australia’s first tattooed model, Nichols would go on to be one of the earliest lady tattooers to grace the industry. Bartram would help influence her but Nichols’ decision to start tattooing came on a whim when her partner at the time broke his hands in a bar brawl and she had to fill in for him. Navigating a tattoo shop as a woman in the 60s took a very thick-skinned, determined, and tough woman to hold her own in with a bunch of surly male tattooers.
She worked in a shop in Williamstown, just outside Melbourne, with people passing by and gawking at her like she was a sideshow freak because she was a heavily tattooed woman who tattooed to make a living and survive. The path she took was considered extremely scandalous because tattoos were considered to be so low brow in those days.
Nichols made it through, though, and she would become one of the most famous and influential personalities in the modern history of tattooing. So much so that in 2005 at the Old Tattoo Expo of San Francisco, she was inducted into the Tattoo Hall Of Fame.
Nichols’ story reminds us that tattooing has evolved to see many talented and groundbreaking women pave the way and advance women in tattoo shops and the industry. And as a community, archiving and documenting the lives of those that came before us so that the knowledge is not lost and is passed along to future generations is so important because our heroes won't live forever.