November 22, 2018

Vyvyn Lazonga: Seattle Tattoo Artist Makes Mastectomy Scars Beautiful

As an artistic kid in Seattle, Vyvyn Lazonga loved to draw and bead. Then she discovered tattoos in the early 1970s.
“This lightbulb went off in my head! I thought tattoos might be a good medium for my artwork.”
Vyvyn Lazonga through the years

Lazonga came through the Emporium doors and asked Danny Danzl, a WWII veteran who learnt his craft from the legendary Percy Waters, for an apprenticeship. While she was there, Lazonga began to create original tattoo designs: black and white geometric abstractions, inspired by indigenous art, as well as colorful flowers, fish, birds and other wildlife.

Vyvyn Lazonga with mentor CJ 'Danny' Danzl, a WWII veteran who learnt his craft from the legendary Percy Waters

Danny and Lazonga, circa 1970s 

Vyvyn and Danny Danzl

Danny has the shop windows hand-painted with “World's Youngest Female Tattoo Artist” and “World's Most Beautifully Tattooed Woman” accolades Lazonga received at national tattoo conventions in the 1970s. Don Nolan, Rio De Janiero, Kevin Brady, Pete Stephens and Tom Yeoman also work with Danny Danzl at the Emporium during the 70s.

1970s 1st Ave. location

1970s staff

1970s staff

At 1st Ave., circa 1970s

Pete, Danny, and Kevin Brady, 1979 

Her designs stood out from what the mostly male field was doing at the time. Over the years, Lazonga has been recognized by national tattoo organizations, as well as a steady stream of customers.

She calls herself Madame Lazonga after a comic book villain. She is one of very few women tattoo artists in a trade that requires a strong character and tough as nails attitude.

Vyvyn Lazonga in front of her studio

Madame Lazonga in the studio, 1978

Portrait of Vyvyn Lazonga in the 1970s

Vyvyn was voted 'Most Beautifully Tattooed Female' in 1978, putting heavily tattooed women on the map

Vyvyn Lazonga, circa 1982

Vyvyn lazonga, circa early 1980s

More than thirty years ago, a woman walked into Vyvyn Lazonga's San Francisco shop and asked the tattoo artist to ink new nipples onto her chest. The woman had undergone a mastectomy after a breast cancer diagnosis, and she wanted to recreate a semblance of the breast she'd lost.

That was Lazonga's first foray into post-mastectomy tattooing. Although she can't say for certain, Lazonga believes she was the first person in the country to tattoo over mastectomy scars.
“I'm not going to try to prove a point,” Lazonga says. “But it seems like I'm always a forerunner in a lot of these things.”
An example of a post-masectomy tattoo by Vyvyn Lazonga

An example of a post-masectomy tattoo by Vyvyn Lazonga

An example of a post-masectomy tattoo by Vyvyn Lazonga

An example of a post-masectomy tattoo by Vyvyn Lazonga

These days, about half of Lazonga's clients want her to create post-mastectomy tattoos. Lazonga plies her trade under the name Madame Lazonga out of a narrow, historic storefront on Western Avenue, just below Pike Place Market.

Vyvyn Lazonga today





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