Tattooing A to Z #27: Owen Jensen
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Owen Jensen was born in Pleasant Grove, Utah. As a young man he worked in the railroad shop in Ogden, Utah. In 1911 he saw the “Buffalo Bill Wild West Show”: it was there that he saw his first tattooed man, James Malcolm, who had been tattooed by Charlie Wagner. Owen Jensen got his first tattoo in 1913 from Bob Hodge on the “Lucky Bill Show”.

That fall Jensen went to Detroit and he was offered a job working in a machine shop making tattooing machines: before too long he became a tattooist. Jensen enlisted in World War I and he was stationed near Grand Rapids Michigan. Edwin Brown was tattooing in Grand Rapids at this time and taught Jensen how to paint a tattoo flash. When he returned to his home in Pleasant Grove, Jensen built himself a trunk tattoo outfit and hit the sawdust trail. In the following years, Jensen tattooed on several shows and in many cities. In 1923 Jensen headed for Los Angeles, California and started tattooing with Jack Julian. Jensen did not like that arcade so he relocated to San Pedro and set up shop in a pool hall and worked this fleet town for several years until Charlie Barr ask him to come to work with him back in Los Angeles: Barr was one of the best tattooists of that era.

In 1938 he traveled to New York City, visiting other tattooists along the way, and there he opened up a shop. Wanderlust hit in just a couple of months and he sold the shop to Lou Norman, returned to Los Angeles and reopened on Main Street. Jensen was on the move again in 1940, this time to San Diego to work with Harry Lawson, then he headed to Norfolk and worked in Andy Sturtz‘s shop as well as with Coleman. When he returned to Los Angeles he kicked his supply business into full gear, setting up at 120 West 83rd Street, while tattooing at 243 South Main Street. As the only tattoo supply house on the West Coast, Jensen’s business was a success, offering quality machines and well drawn tattoo flash.

Owen Jensen, watercolour by Pepe
Owen Jensen, watercolour by Pepe

Owen Jensen last worked on the Nu-Pike in Long Beach with Lee Roy Minugh at 26 Chestnut, just a stone’s throw away from Bert Grimm’s location. Lee Roy tells the story that Jensen once worked with Grimm at 22 Chestnut, but around 1971 Grimm and Jensen had a disagreement over flash and Bert “ran him off”. Then that Jensen went to work with Lee Roy. At this time the Nu-Pike was past its peak and Jensen was worrying about crime on the street. In May 1975 he wrote: “We still get $5.00 for a name on the arm, but we both carry a small derringer in our pocket while we work”.

On July 5, 1976, some young punks grabbed Owen Jensen around the neck and stuck a knife in his back. They beat him up pretty bad and took $30.00. They must have caught him by surprise as he was not able to get to his derringer. Owen Jensen never recovered from that beating.

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