Tehachapi residents past and present were stunned recently to hear of the untimely passing of Jimmy Bertram, 51, who died in his sleep in Bakersfield on Oct. 3. Jimmy had experienced some seizures recently, and was being treated for high blood pressure.

Jimmy was an amazingly gifted and productive artist and craftsman who was raised in Tehachapi and attended Tehachapi schools all his life (THS Class of ’89). Jimmy was one of the most highly regarded tattoo artists in Kern County, and he inked thousands of clients over the past nearly 30 years.

Jimmy was born in Camp Lejeune, N.C., on Jan. 12, 1971, the only son of Oliver and Coleen Bertram. Oliver was a career military man, who then retired from the Marine Corps and the family moved to Tehachapi in 1976.

Jimmy’s life was rocked at a young age when his father passed away in 1979. But Jimmy didn’t crumble or turn inward. He was a natural leader, and he was determined to finish the job of raising himself with help from his mother, Coleen.

Jimmy was part of the first Tehachapi crew to really get into skateboarding and punk rock music. Jimmy was also drawn to the Rendezvous re-enactment movement and the fur trapping era, and he learned how to do professional quality beadwork and leatherwork. He made his own gear and regalia.

From an early age, Jimmy was respectful of his elders. There is a stereotype that young people who favor skate culture, punk and hard core music, tattoos and piercings are all rebellious and disrespectful. This certainly did not apply to Jimmy Bertram.

He thought for himself and reached his own conclusions, and he definitely didn’t blindly follow conventional choices, but Jimmy was very respectful of others, particularly the wisdom keepers from earlier times. He was interested in Native American culture and lifeways, and the lore and skills of mountain men. I’ve known Jimmy since he was 14 or 15, and even then he seemed like a young wizard in training.

As an artist, Jimmy was exceptional. Tattooing is a demanding art form that requires you to be versatile, creative and prolific. Clients walk in and want you to implement a design that they have in their mind, and once they’re satisfied with your rendition, you then have to transfer it onto a living canvas (them). And you can’t erase a mistake or a misplaced line. Tattooing is in some ways a performance art or improv, without the benefit of rehearsals. You never know who might walk through the tattoo shop door on a given day, or what sort of depiction or design they want to walk out with.

Of course, Jimmy’s artistic talent was not limited to body art. He could draw incredibly well, and he worked in a variety of different mediums. Decades ago, he repeatedly offered to give me a free tattoo, as a gesture of his respect, but I told him “I can’t decide on something I’d like to look at on my body for the rest of my life. How about you ‘tattoo’ a design of grapevines around the framework of my kitchen doorway?”

Jimmy walked to our farm one day, picked some grape leaves that he found along the way, and before he left that evening, there was a beautiful design of vines, clusters of hanging grapes and grape leaves growing on the 4-inch wide trim boards around the doorway in the 115-year-old farmhouse. They were painted in over the following days, I have enjoyed them for more than 30 years, and the Jimmy Bertram grapevines still look great to this day.

Hundreds and hundreds of people loved and respected Jimmy Bertram. He had no time for pretentious people or posers, but he connected with anyone who was real and genuine, regardless of their life circumstances. Jimmy made people feel that they had value, and were loved. He made mistakes in life, as we all have, but he always wanted to be on the right side. He strove to be a force for good in the world.

Jimmy knew sorrow and tragedy in his life, but he didn’t want to be bitter or feel sorry for himself. When I think of Jimmy, I’m reminded of lyrics in a Guy Clark song: “I have danced me around, Some sad old situations, And taken up my share, Of those sweet invitations. . .” Yes he did.

In addition to the rest of us who are mourning his passing, Jimmy leaves behind his most treasured loved one: his son, Dakotah. With the passing last year of his mother, Beth Jensen, Dakotah has now been orphaned at only 26. Dakotah lives in the Lake Tahoe area, and is now down in Kern County to organize a service for his father. Jimmy’s sister Valerie has started a Go Fund Me account in the name of Jimmy Bertram to help raise funds for funeral expenses and arrangements. If you are able to help young Dakotah with this burden, please do so.

In addition to Dakotah, Jimmy is survived by his mother Coleen, of Tehachapi; his sister Valerie, of Henderson, Nev.; and sisters Terry of South Dakota and Debbie of Colorado, as well as multiple nieces and nephews and countless friends.

Jimmy’s legacy will live on in the art that he created, and the indelible impressions that he made on others in his half century of living. He was a rare and unique Tehachapi boy who grew into a talented and unforgettable man.

Have a good week.

Jon Hammond has written for Tehachapi News for more than 40 years. Send email to tehachapimtnlover@gmail.com.