Mister St. Clair was born 1912 in Bluefield, West Virginia. Stoney tattooed out of a wheelchair, a “struggle-buggy” as he called it. He had been in that chair for all his life.

In 1916 when Stoney was four years old, his tonsils burst and he contracted rheumatoid arthritis. When he was 15 years old he got that wild hair up his keester and joined the sideshow in the Cole Brothers Circus as a sword swallower.

In 1928, when the circus was in Norfolk, Virginia, he went downtown with his cousins and there he saw a tattoo shop and a guy tattooing an ea- gle on this fellas back. He looked at the eagle and knew that he could do a better job. Nothing special about that, but in that shop happened to work arguably one of the greatest tattoo artists ever to grace the green earth, August “Cap” Coleman, who’s flash designs are still the basis of numerous Old-School Tattoos. So Leonard had to step up and put his money where he’s mouth was.

Over the desk he saw some typing paper, took one and proceeded to draw an eagle. Then he showed the design to Cap. The man was impressed and asked how did he learn to draw like that? Leonard said he just picked it up along the way (he had learned to draw in children’s hospital). Next day Coleman gave him two machines and some colors. Well, there was only two colors: red and black, but that’s about all you need. Cap also showed him how to use the machines, told him to practice on his friends and if he ran out living skin, to practice on a grapefruit.

Leonard Stoney St Clair, watercolour by Pepe
Leonard Stoney St Clair, watercolour by Pepe

The name “Stoney” was bestowed upon Leonard because of tattoo related “issues”. He liked to booze it up and go to whore houses to relieve some pressure, but when it came to tattooing he was all business. He was just 16 years old. What followed is years and years of traveling around and tattooing in places such as Little Rock, Miami, Hopkinsville, Grayson, Havana, Cuba, Puerto Rico and Memphis Tennessee. He also tattooed with Ted and Bob Liberty in 1930, 1933 and 1934 in the city of Boston. With Charlie Wagner in the Bowery who Stoney considered to be his second mentor in addition to Coleman. Then in Chicago with Frisco Bill Moore in 1931 and 1932. Even though he liked Bill, he didn’t like tattooing in there because you had to work too cheap and had a lot of competition between tattooers who talked against each others.

He opened his first steady tattoo shop in Tampa in 1936. And it was in Biloxi, Mississippi, where he was from 1950 to 1957. The last shop he opened in 1970 was located in Columbus. He died peacefully in his sleep on December 3, 1980.