“I want to be a piercer! How do I get an apprenticeship? Where do I learn to pierce?”
This desire has been expressed by thousands of people over the recent past. What was once something barely thought ofas a viable career blossomed into a huge, multifaceted industry in the last few decades. As if out of nowhere, piercing became a legitimate job one could make a comfortable living at. But the path to get there has been as ever-changing as the industry itself. You don’t go to school to become a piercer, there’s no classes or degree you can hold in body piercing. Traditionally, like many other crafts, piercing has been trained by masters, to apprentices. Someone already skilled at the craft takes a beginner under their wing and shows them the craft one on one. But how did we get there? Where did the first piercers come from? How did the apprenticeship evolve to what it is today?
Stick ’em with the pointy end: A brief history of the piercing needle.
How is a piercing done? With a needle. It seems like a pretty easy, straight forward answer. But it hasn’t always been that way. While modern body piercing has access to some of the best, most well-crafted needles we could ask for, such wasn’t the case twenty or thirty years ago. In fact, just having access to needles was unheard of for a bit. The needle is one of the most important factors in a safe, correctly done body piercing. Without a good needle, the entire piercing experience can go sideways (or crooked). So, let’s delve into the history of the piercing needle, and how we got to the modern design we all use today.
In the ’60s and ’70s piercing was still very much underground. We were a few years away from the opening of the gauntlet in 1975 by Jim Ward. Piercing was primarily a fetish in the Leather/BDSM scene, practiced in the darkest corners of already forbidden back rooms and clubs. Since this was being practiced by people who wouldn’t dream of going out and trying to get supplies for their extracurricular activities, they made use of what they had. Sharpening wire, and using modified ice picks and nuts and bolts was common.
“There was nothing available at the time so it was crude. I’m not sure about the years, but in the ’60s and ’70s, that’s what they would use. The material was the same LVM surgical stainless steel but they would polish with diamond dust on a wheel to get rid of any porousness it had called orange peel. By the time they were done, it looked like a mirror! I can’t imagine the level of determination these people had. The ice pics were solid of course, and I never saw use of any of it. I came after that, but I imagine it was horrible.” –Ken Dean, Silver Anchor.
Ari – I’m super excited for us to do this Michael. Thanks so much for speaking with me today.
Michael – This is tough because I feel like in general I’m a pretty private person, especially with this history and timeline. I don’t think, besides my spouse, there’s a single person I’ve ever talked my timeline over with because it just never seems relevant to my interaction with another person. You know what I mean? The whole, “hey, listen to me!” To me it’s a difficult process but we’ll get through this and hopefully it doesn’t feel like I’m talking too much.
Ari – I don’t really plan out these so we’ll just start with an introduction and let the conversation go organically. First I like to do a brief synopsis though – maybe some information about Marigold, where you started out, and anything else you’d like to include.
Michael – I’ve been piercing for twenty-six years- that has been a long pathway. I currently own Marigold with my wife Jessica, who pierces and tattoos. We have additional tattooers who are there as well as a nurse who does microblading. I’m there sometimes for certain piercings. I do all the genital piercings, the septum piercings, surface work, and anything in relation to difficult anatomy. Other than those few times throughout the week, I’m not there like on a scheduled basis – it’s really appointment only. I’m in school full-time and work other jobs besides Marigold, so I’m busy. I’m in school for biochemistry at Norwich University – which is actually the oldest military college in the United States – It’s the birthplace of ROTC. It’s an interesting environment to be in as a civilian. But as we talk about this timeline, I did sort of leave piercing for a while and do other stuff (while still piercing) including the military and a deployment to Afghanistan. It’s been a convoluted path! I work as a critical care paramedic for a level one trauma center teaching hospital. We live in Montpelier, Vermont – a tiny little town in beautiful Vermont, and it’s great to be in a little town with this shop we’ve created. We love it, it feels perfect, and it’s been twenty-six years between starting and now – it’s like a lifetime.
Along with Steve Haworth, Ron Garza stands out as one of the most influential artists who’s work contributed to the popularization of aesthetic scarification in the post 1990s body modification scene; with a style informed by time spent piercing at tattoo shops (as well as innate artistic talent) Ron was able to bridge the gap between basic geometric shape cuttings/branding and larger, more intricate representational designs.
Ron was photographed by his friend and TSD collaborator Allen Falkner in Philadelphia at the first Scar Wars event back in May of 2005.
Ari conducted this interview at the 2018 APP Conference and Expo in Las Vegas; while speaking to Georgina, Nick Giordano popped over to say hello and joined the conversation. A rare Ari two for one! Photos will be added soon. -SP/SD
Ari – Hey Georgina, thanks so much for talking to me today. I always have everyone do the basic introduction so give us your name and where you work, etc.
Georgina – Of course! My name is Georgina Schiavelli, and I own Black Diamond Body Piercing in West Hartford, Connecticut. I have been piercing since 1997 and I’ve owned Black Diamond since we opened in 2008.
Ari – How did your apprenticeship start?
Georgina – Like so many people back in the 90s – totally by accident! I was an enthusiast and a college student – it’s how I ended up in Connecticut after growing up on Long Island. I went to University of Hartford, which is in West Hartford, and I walked into Green Man Tattoo. I actually got pierced by one of the tattoo artists first- they didn’t have a piercer yet- the tattooer did a terrible job on my piercing in case you were wondering – it was a hideously off-center labret. Other then that I had started to become friends with one of the owners, John, who did my right sleeve. I started just popping into the shop here and there. I was really interested in tattoos and piercings.Within a few months of that Jeff Goldblatt, my mentor, started working there. He had previously worked in Millford (I believe), which is around 45 minutes away from us. I walked in and was like, “oh, who’s this guy?” and when I found out he was a piercer I thought, “oh, you’re like an actual piercer and not just a tattooer!” I got a bunch of work from him and we became very fast friends. My sheer interest in the general business of it was why he pretty much offered me an apprenticeship; I was in there almost every day. I just always wanted to hang out there and learn everything- I thought it was all so cool. He saw my passion for it, I was about 19 at the time, took me under his wing, and that was 21 years ago! Continue reading →
Happy New Year from Sacred Debris; today marks our fifth anniversary and we are infinitely thankful for all of the support you folks have given us over the last half decade. It was a bumpy year for the blog; we’ve had some tech problems that I’m still trying to work through (if anyone is a WordPress savant, hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org) so thanks for sticking around and for all the kind words and support; Ari and I have some fun video and print projects lined up this year so we’re hoping that it’s our best yet.
(Photo: Jim Ward and Fakir Musafar, APP Conference 2001. Photo courtesy of Sean Christian/SPCO)
Happy May the 4th (be with you) everyone!
Georgia based artist Jason Craig was our go-to artist for event branding throughout the 2000s; in 2005 he designed this Star Wars/Liberty Bell Mashup t-shirt for the inaugural ScarWars event in Philadelphia. It was printed in two styles; on a black t-shirt and on a grey raglan t-shirt.
The shirts were available for pre-order and at the event, and never reprinted.
Scarwars event fixer Brian Sowden and host Shawn Porter, 2005
Ari – Did you feel like going through a tattoo apprenticeship, and being so enmeshed in the tattoo industry, influenced you as a piercer?
Bethrah – Oh yeah, it influenced the entire piercing community in some really interesting ways that people don’t know. I think they’re really different sensibilities – I think there are some interesting up and down sides of both disciplines. The downside of tattooing is you’re judged exclusively for your capacity to make really beautiful art, or really interesting art, and how well you’re applying it to the skin. But you’re not necessarily critiqued on other aspects of what you do like health and safety and general sanitation; the burden of you as a professional isn’t placed on that. You can do amazing art and just be the most dirty, grimy tattoo artist and people aren’t going to worry about it very much. You won’t get blasted for it in the community. I see that in tattoo shops – I can’t even tell you how many times the owner has been super proud and their shop is really beautiful, but the biohazard is in a closet on the way to the bathroom where from a health and safety perspective it’s like, “Oh this place is horrible! I would never get tattooed here.” – but they’re famous! Granted these are sweeping generalizations, and not always the case. There are plenty of tattoo artists who are amazing who are super clean and conscientious and have well thought out studios in all aspects of what they’re doing. It’s just a pitfall based on what’s considered a value. It’s almost the opposite on the piercing end. People are so heavily critiqued on their method that the aesthetic of what they’re doing is almost completely under-addressed. Does it look straight or does it seem even can be addressed at times but whether or not it’s on the right place in the body falls by the wayside. I had this discussion with a guy from Russia – is it art or is it technique? – and I said it’s both. If you don’t know about art or understand color theory and don’t understand spacial perception and composition, it shows in your work. It’s clear in your work if you don’t have these things. Continue reading →
Ari: I always like to kick these off with an introduction, so tell us a little about you, Mama.
Vidra: My introduction to the industry was 1978. I met a gentleman by the name of Linus Herrell and he owned a store in Cleveland called Body Language and that store, how do you explain it? It’s like one of the first alternative bookstores. We didn’t sell any porn, nothing like that, but it had a rubber room and a leather room, where there were all different types of books and little novelties and stuff like that. Also, he had a piercing room. He had magazines like PFIQ, the whole nine yards and I was like, “OK, this is fascinating.” I met him when he was a bartender at one of the little leather bars in Cleveland, in fact the oldest one in Ohio. He had a huge bull’s tether in his septum, and I was just staring at him, because number one it was very attractive and number two I was like, “hmm, how did you do that? How did he get something that thick into his septum?” I asked him a couple of questions. He explained it to me, explained the process of stretching and piercing. When I asked him where do you get something like that done he said he’d gotten work done at the Gauntlet in L.A. by a gentlemen called Jim Ward. That was my first introduction to Gauntlet, and even that was through Linus. He told me about PFIQ and the new shop he’d be opening, etc etc, and then in his psychotic manner he said, “So what are you doing tonight? I get off in two hours.” I said, “eh, probably just going home” and he said, “Well let’s go home and fuck”, and I’m like, “okay.” Now realize back then I was working for a Catholic Church. I was the rectory cook, as well as directing theatre for the deaf and blind and just about any other handicap you can imagine and normal people all on the same stage. It was a lot of work, it was a lot of fun, and I loved doing it. That’s what I did for a living back then. Cooking for a church rectory for the priests and the nuns who ran the Hunger Center in a pretty impoverished area of Cleveland, but it was also the deaf and the blind center for the Diocese of Cleveland. I had worked with almost all types of disabilities really from the time I was 13. Continue reading →