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Lew the Jew and His Circle: Origins of American Tattoo

Jul 26, 2018–Jun 9, 2019

“Lew the Jew” (1880–1954) was one of the most influential artists tattooing in NYC’s Bowery at the beginning of the twenti­eth century. The exhibition includes previously unpublished and rare original tattoo artwork, photos, and correspondence between Lew and San Francisco tattooers “Brooklyn Joe” Lieber and C. J. ”Pop” Eddy. 


This exhibition is included in your general admission ticket. Museum admission also includes free access to all public programs and tours, unless otherwise noted. Public tours are offered daily (except Wednesdays) and are available first-come, first-serve—no reservations are necessary. Private guided tours, access tours for visitors with disabilities, and guided tours for school groups of all ages are also available.

about the exhibition

Don Ed Hardy is one of San Francisco’s treasures—an artist, a legendary retired tattoo designer, an expert on the history of tattooing, and a writer, curator and publisher of many books on tattoo and related topics. He has published a book titled “Lew the Jew" Alberts: Early 20th Century Tattoo Drawings, and this exhibition is inspired by that book. 

“Lew the Jew,” born Albert Morton Kurzman (1880–1954), was a New Yorker at the turn of the last century who had fought in the Spanish American War, and learned tattooing in the Philippines. When he returned, he became part of the emerging tattoo industry in the New York area, and one of the earliest developers of flash, the samples used in tattoo shops. Alberts was in the close-knit group of the most prominent American tattoo artists of the first quarter of the twentieth century, who stayed in close communication despite being spread across the country. This correspondence, containing iconic examples of American flash, are significant early records of tattoo history that show how these artists influenced each other’s styles. Alberts’ late-career correspondence with then-emerging Bay Area tattoo figures, Brooklyn Joe Lieber and C.J. “Pop” Eddy, shows this American folk-art form being collaboratively brought into being during the early years of American tattoo.

Origins of American Tattoo

Don Ed Hardy shares his research into the archives of tattoo history and how he uncovered the fascinating story of Lew "the Jew" Alberts. With Mary Joy Scott (Tattoo City), Grime (independent artist), and Taki (State of Grace Tattoo).

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Lew the Jew and His Circle: Origins of American Tattoo is organized by The Contemporary Jewish Museum. Sponsorship is generously provided by Maribelle and Stephen Leavitt, Joyce Linker, and Pacific Heights Plastic Surgery.

Image Credit

Header image: Alberts Tattoo on S.F. tattooer Pop Eddy's business card, early twentieth century. Courtesy of Don Ed Hardy. Photo: Lew's Brooklyn shop, ca. 1915. Courtesy of Don Ed Hardy. Opening night photos by Gary Sexton Photography.