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Delve into the intriguing world of tattooing, as we uncover the history, symbolism, and evolution of this timeless art form, showcased through items held within the State Library collections. 

Join retired Engagement Librarian Carolyn Spooner as she takes on another quirky topic following her 2023 talks on the taxidermist’s and the undertaker’s art. 

Joseph Banks introduced the Polynesian cultural practice of 'tatauing' to English society in 1769 after his visit to Tahiti with James Cook. Formerly linked with sailors and ‘ne’er-do-wells’ tattooing is now part of mainstream popular culture. South Australian tattooing items in the State Library collections include books, magazines, posters, and vinyl record covers. Newspapers give an insight into early tattooing practices, such as a 1912 advertisement for Hamman’s electro-tattooist studio in King William Street which offered ladies tattooing of the highest class – artistic, refined and painless. A butterfly was a popular tattoo on the arms of society women, the same image that aviator Ross Smith had on his arm when he enlisted in 1914. 


This presentation was recorded as part of the State Library's Live and Learn program on 18 June 2024. Presenter: Carolyn Spooner, Researcher and Amy C. Duncan, tattoo artist and botanical illustrator.