Philadelphia is a city with deep ties to the Delaware River. The river first sustained Native Americans, then Europeans, and continues to be a vital source of water and a means of transportation to this day.
In the early 20th century, Philadelphia served the region as a shipping hub for goods from all over the world. The Navy Yard, before Urban Outfitters, was a strategic naval port housing thousands of shipbuilders and sailors. When other ships would come to port here, thousands of sailors eager for dry land would take to the streets.
There is one prevailing form of art that many sailors choose to take part in. Images of pirates with tattoos and the navy man with an anchor drawn on his forearm are what we associate with sailors. These may seem cliche, but it’s true that many sailors spent their precious shore leave getting a tattoo.
“Crazy Philadelphia” Eddie Funk was the most iconic Philadelphia tattoo artist of the 60s, 70s, and 80s, and owned an iconic tattoo shop that catered to sailors. The Independence Seaport Museum is honoring his work with a special ongoing exhibition in their community gallery with an extra special event happening on July 21.
If you visit on this date, you can leave with something you will never forget. Visitors can have a real Philadelphia Eddie tattoo, taken from one of his original flash sheets, done by professional tattoo artist Troy Timpel who bought Philadelphia Eddie’s Tattoo and runs the Philadelphia Tattoo Convention. “(He’s) tattooing designs off of Eddie’s old stencil sheets,” Said Curator and Documentarian Erich Weiss. “We rebuilt the building front of one of the tattoo shops for the exhibit.”
According to Weiss, Eddie was originally from New York. He started tattooing in Coney Island and eventually moved to Manhattan. Eddie moved to Philadelphia in the 1960s when NYC outlawed tattooing, and opened a shop at 9th and Cherry Streets. “Back in the 60s and 70s, that area was skid row,” Weiss said. “When the ships were in, Skid Row was filled with sailors walking around all the bars,” Weiss said.
Weiss told us Eddie helped transition from the bold lines and limited coloring of classic tattoo styles to a more refined artistic style drawn with finer lines and intricate details and coloring. “He had a very distinct style that became popular in the 1960s,” Weiss said. “He was a larger than life character. He had the pompadour hair and yellow suit jackets, raspy voice...He was just really well liked when tattooing was a really closed world.”
According to Weiss, Eddie is also credited with starting modern tattoo conventions. Eddie opened a company called National Tattoo Supply, and as he met people from all walks of the tattoo world, he had the idea to hold an event where everyone could come together and show off their work. He held the first National Tattoo Convention in the early 1970s, and the Philadelphia Tattoo Convention that he began is still immensely popular today.
The exhibit features one of a kind of memorabilia from Eddie’s shops and life. Many of his original acetate stencils are on display along with tattoo machines and pictures from his life. According to Weiss, Eddie at one point had a dozen shops across the country, and each had its own trove of memorabilia. This exhibit takes pieces from Eddie’s 60 year career, and puts them in one exhibit. “It’s a very colorful display of American folk art,” Weiss said. “He really symbolized Philadelphia as a whole in the 60s, 70s, and 80s...a little rough around the collar (and) charismatic.
Click here to plan your trip to the Independence Seaport Museum