Down East 2013 ©
Yvonne Jongeleen took her devotion to “God and country” quite seriously indeed. Never mind that she was apparently subjecting herself to the pain of having a large tattoo of Jesus and an angel imprinted onto her back — she was doing it in full view of a cameraman for the Portland Evening Express. And this wasn’t her only body art. She also had a large image of crossed American and Dutch flags on her left shoulder, a demonstration of the joining of her homeland with that of her husband, Peter, who had emigrated from Holland in 1917.
It is, in fact, twenty-eight-year-old Peter who wields the electrical tattoo machine in this photograph, his wedding band prominently displayed perhaps to allay any concerns of whether or not he ought to be so intimate with this woman. His neatly combed hair and pressed shirt and tie further his image as an upstanding businessman, while also conveniently concealing the tattoos that cover virtually every inch of his skin not shown here. “It gets to be sort of a fever,” Jongeleen told a reporter several decades after this photo was taken, while he was still an active tattoo artist. “First one arm, then another. It gets to be sort of a hobby.”
What this glass-plate negative, one of several included in an exhibit on display at the Maine Historical Society in Portland through the end of October, can’t tell us for certain is whether Yvonne was actually being permanently branded in this scene. It is quite possible that Peter has simply drawn the tattoo by hand and is now mocking it up for the camera in the hopes of boosting business at his Fore Street electrical tattooing shop, the only such operation in the Forest City. He has carefully positioned his wife in front of several other designs in the background, subtly letting viewers know that his artistry extends beyond religious images.
For her sake, we hope this was a temporary condition for Yvonne, as just a year after this photograph was made Peter left her and moved to New Jersey with a new wife, Edna, of Otisfield. There he transformed Edna into a true painted lady and toured with the Sells Floto Circus before opening a new tattoo shop in Newark. Unlike with poor Yvonne, the affection they shared was, apparently, as long-lasting as the art that graced both their bodies.