I first heard the name Colorado Nick 12 or so years ago. I stopped an older gentleman at the grocery store to ask who did the tattoo on his arm, and he told me it was done by Colorado Nick. I didn’t ask for any details at the time, although in hindsight I wished I had. I didn’t get any real concrete information on Colorado Nick until some years later. Colorado Springs tattoo legend Snake Yates was retiring and I purchased all the flash off the walls of his long standing shop on Platte avenue. My wife Kayla and I went over to pick up the flash from Snake and got to talking about tattoo history in Colorado Springs and he mentioned two guys from the generation just before him in the 1950s/60s, Robert Alexander and Colorado Nick Wisner. Alexander had a shop in downtown Colorado Springs and was known for painting his flash on sheets of glass. Colorado Nick tattooed up the street on the northeast corner of Colorado and Tejon in the back of a popular pool hall called Recreation Billiards. Nick had outfitted a shop in the back of the pool hall to capitalize on the steady flow of military servicemen that frequented the establishment. Snake had been tattooed by Nick 4 times in the late 60s and showed us the tattoos and they were beautiful. The one that stood out to me the most was beautiful classic rose on his leg that Nick had done.
Years later, I was told by Henry Goldfield that when he was tattooing in Denver in the 60s, he would ride his motorcycle down to Colorado Springs and help him out on military paydays, as the work load was more than Nick could manage on his own. Colorado Springs is a huge military town with several air force and army bases, so I can imagine the demand at the pool hall could have been pretty high on paydays.
I have heard this story from a number of people that knew Nick — apparently when he was working on State Street in Chicago, he was beat up by the mob and was forced to move back home to Colorado Springs and live with his mother, Mary. Apparently Nick had sustained a pretty severe head injury from the beating that plagued him the rest of his life. As far as I can tell, Nick also worked in North Carolina, Hawaii and Phoenix Arizona. In his time he worked along side the likes of Huck Spaulding (pre Paul Rogers era) and George De Silva (in Hawaii).
I have been collecting vintage tattoo flash and photos for 17 years now, and I was constantly on the hunt for anything related to Nick. It proved to be pretty hard to come by, but slowly over the years, I have pieced together a nice collection of his hand-painted flash. His flash seemed to be commonly misidentified as Nick Picaro flash, as most of the sheets were signed with a simple cursive “Nick” at the bottom.
When we released the Old Glory book a few years ago, I knew that Quincy Lee Cooper learned to tattoo from Nick when he was discharged from the army at Ft. Carson. Lee was an avid pool player and met Nick at Recreation Billiards. After acquiring more of Nick’s flash, I realized a lot of the designs in the Old Glory book are Colorado Nick’s designs that Lee had gotten from Nick during that time period. In fact, a lot of Lee’s flash sheets contain a handful of Nick’s designs repainted in a very similar style.
Moises Expositio helped immensely with the Old Glory book. He took on the challenge of tracing the weathered and faded acetate rubbings and line-drawings, making them into easy to reference line drawings for the book. It was a huge undertaking, and I am forever grateful for his friendship and dedication to bringing that book to life. It truly wouldn’t have happened without him.
After digging a little deeper into Nick’s history, we discovered he was buried at the beautiful Evergreen Cemetery in Colorado Springs. I went to pay my respects and brought along some of Nick’s paintings with me only to discover he was buried in an unmarked grave in a family plot next to his mother. We immediately arranged to have a headstone made for Nick. Moises and I collaboratively designed a headstone for Nick using designs taken from some of Nick’s flash sheets. It seemed only fitting after working on the Old Glory book together that we could do that for Nick.
I am making this blog post to let people in Colorado know who Nick was and encourage them to pay him a visit. He is buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Section B, spot 141. We made a small run of folded maps of his old shop location and where he is buried. If you tattoo in Colorado and want to receive some of these maps, please reach out to us at email@example.com.