Stoney Knows How: Life as a Sideshow Tattoo Artist

by Alan Govenar


2nd Edition Published: November 2003 by Schiffer Publishing Ltd, ISBN: 0-7643-1832-2; Details: Hardcover, Full-Color, 8.75"x11.2", 158 pages
1st Edition Published: February 1981 by University Press of Kentucky; ASIN: 0813114020; Details: Hardcover

From Journal of American Folklore (1983)
I am glad I skipped the Acknowledgments in first reading "Stoney Knows How," for it is there we learn that the man who tells us his story – Stoney St. Clair – has already died. He so clearly lives in the pages of this short book that reports of his death seem, like Twain’s, somehow a sad exaggeration. Stoney (Leonard L. St. Clair) was a tattoo artist of the “Old School,” as he says. The sign above Stoney’s Columbus, Ohio shop proclaimed: “Stoney Knows How: Tattooing by the Teacher of the Art.” Folklorist Alan B. Govenar transcribed and edited Stoney’s oral autobiography, and it is clear from the narrative that Stoney was indeed a “Teacher of the Art."

Much of the value of this book is in the obvious expressions of personal and cultural values….it is a very good book, very readable, one that can easily serve as a source for scholars whether their interest is in folk art, American folk values, folk expressions, or life histories and personal narratives.
Susan K. Stahl, Indiana University, Bloomington

From The New York Times (November 11, 1981)
“Stoney Knows How” is an extended interview with Mr. St. Clair, an ebullient little man with the gift of gab of a circus tout (spoken in the accents of Appalachia) and a fund of bizarre stories about tattooing and unrelated matters. One of these is the tale of the widow of a Florida snake farmer who had been squeezed to death by this python. The woman apparently made a fortune touring the South with the guilty snake. “After all,” says Stoney, “how often do you get a chance to see a snake that’s squeezed a man to death?”

Not often, nor does one often have the opportunity to meet a man like Stoney. The film makers treat him with respect, fondness and appreciation and he responds in kind.
Vincent Canby