One of the most enduring and powerful tattoo symbols of the 20th century has a history which few tattoo devotees might suspect. The “black panther” or “crawling panther” is a form of the big cat whose contours make it ideal for placement over the rolling and fluid musculature of the human body, primarily on arms and legs. Tattoo artist Amund Dietzel must have recognized that primal appeal when he adapted it for tattooing. Known as “the master in Milwaukee”, Dietzel (1890 – 1973) learned tattooing while only a teenager in his early sailor years and practiced his trade in various parts of the Northeast and northern Midwest in the early part of the century.
In 1934, a children’s book was published by Grosset & Dunlap called Minute Myths and Legends: Dramatic Moments in the Affairs of the Gods, Arch-Demons, Goddesses, Demi-Gods and Heroes of This and Other Worlds with illustrations by Marie Schubert. Famous myths from throughout the world were succinctly summarized in short stories which capture the essence of the tales. The crawling panther made its debut in this unique volume as a monstrous and magic cat sent to devour the mythic Irish hero Cuchulain ,who thumped it on the nose with the flat of his sword and then tossed bones to it while he finished his dinner. Schubert’s design, placed in the lower left hand part of the page, stares menacingly up at the hero at right. The black shading with white highlights, the elongated form, curling tail, claws and snarl are all part of the original children’s book version. Dietzel adapted Schubert’s design with minimal changes and the famous panther tattoo was born.