Alan Govenar and Bruce Lane’s Stoney Knows How is a short and sweet look at one of the tattoo world’s great characters.
Stoney St. Clair started developing his craft at the age of 16. He learned the art of tattooing from some of the best skin pounders in the business, including Ted and Bob Liberty, Frisco Bill Moore and a stint with Charlie Wagner on New York City’s Bowery.
Stoney tattooed while using a wheelchair, which he called his “struggle-buggy.” It didn’t keep him from doing what he had to do, which was “to pursue my profession with intelligence and skill, wishing not to offend anyone, but instead, with my love of mankind, to do what good I can before I die.” Stoney passed away in 1980.
Director Bruce Lane describes his film:
Stoney Knows How is a visit with a master of the Oldest Art In The World - Tattooing. Disabled by arthritis since the age of four, confined to a wheelchair, his growth stunted, Stoney St. Clair joined the circus at 15 as a sword-swallower. A year later, he took up tattooing, and traveled with circuses and carnivals for 50 years. As we watch him at work, we see the determination which led Stoney to use his crippled hands in an art where mistakes are permanent, and we realize Stoney has overcome his handicap to heal himself and others with the magic of symbols. The film ends with a visit by New Age tattoo master Don Ed Hardy to Stoney, who gives him a souvenir tattoo.”
Here’s Stoney Knows How in its entirety. Cinematography by none other than Les Blank.