Traveling Galleries: Students and Their Indelible Ink


BY COLLEEN COYLE – STAFF WRITER

Few of us consider that every day we sit beside art acquisitions experts, students who can tell you everything and anything about certain works of art, specifically the ones they carry permanently. Small and large, tattoos grace the skin of many students on Centre’s campus, telling stories, carrying symbols, and permanently enshrining memories. In most cases, each tattoo a person selects has a meaning and Centre students are no different. For those with multiple tattoos, they become an anthology of their lives, marking the passage of time and cementing memories. For those without tattoos, the question often becomes, ‘why?’ What is so important that it must be permanently etched into the skin, impossible to wash off and difficult to change? The answer lies in the testimonies of those who have them.

Sophomore Morgan Miller’s tattoo inspiration came at a young age and her first tattoo, the original sketch of Edgar Degas’ Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer, was a bold foray into the world of tattoos. The tattoo stretches across her left rib cage and is quite large, certainly a feat for a first-time tattoo recipient.

“It was a natural thing”, said Miller, after seeing Edgar Degas’ sculpture of the Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer at the St. Louis Art Museum with her mom and aunt. Miller remembers just “being in awe”, and that [the sculpture] was her “first connection” to the art world. Now bearing five tattoos, Miller has plans for more, including a tattoo of each mountain range she hikes and an Indian Paintbrush in honor of her time spent in Wyoming.

Miller is not alone in her commemoration of important art on her body. Sophomore Morgan Underwood bears the outline of a mountain range and the lyrics to a Fleet Foxes song which read ‘terrible am I child, even if you don’t mind.’ Though the song does not have an explicitly assigned meaning, she emphasizes that its significance lies in unconditional love and a deep appreciation for the beauty of the song. Now bearing four tattoos, Underwood received her first tattoo, an image of Winnie the Pooh and Piglet, at age 16. The tattoo is shared with her oldest sister and is a symbol of the bond they shared throughout childhood. Plans for a future tattoo include the hand symbol for ‘hang loose’ and a pineapple because of her love for the fruit.

Sometimes the source of inspiration is not from professional artists but from intimate personal spaces. Kasen Hollingsworth, a senior, bears a tattoo of his father’s handwriting on his bicep which reads ‘no white flags’, a phrase his father used that came to symbolize perseverance and hard work. His mother also contributed to his tattoo inspiration, as Hollingsworth now bears a design on his forearm that his mother drew on the tip of his nose and on the tips of his toes when he was a child. This time drawn in his mother’s handwriting, it’s a heart with a curly-que tail a smiley face inside. Hollingsworth emphasizes that his tattoos almost all have familial significance and now bears six different tattoos, including some whimsical bananas on the back of his right arm to remind him of his brother and to be silly.

 

Religion and personal experience can also be origins for designs. Alex Hibbs, now in her fourth year at Centre, relied heavily on these two areas for her various tattoos. Hibbs’s first tattoo is Mandala filled with complex geometric designs which she shares with her sister, who inspired her early on to get tattoos. Hibbs explains that they have somewhat different designs to demonstrate the difference in their personalities, somewhat similar but unique on an individual level. When it comes to personal experience, Hibbs shares that her favorite is a recent (though not the most recent) acquisition. An image created by a French artist, the tattoo is the outline woman with her knees pulled to her chest and her head buried in her arms. Hibbs explains that the image represents “the many identities” she is coming to terms with and a commemoration of her mental illness, both the role in played in her past and the one it is likely to play in her future.

“It’s an acknowledgement of my past and my present,” said Hibbs, “its still something I’m coming to terms with but it’s not something I can hide and so this is me being honest with myself. It’s a very real part of my coming of age.”

Bearing other tattoos, Hibbs emphasizes that each mark different periods of her life and even if her interests change they mark what was important to her at different times.

All four students had a similar reply when asked if they were concerned about job eligibility and perceptions of those around them. Morgan Underwood believes tattoos are like hair

“You wear your hair a certain way to express something about you so they can tell you something about a potential employee.” said Underwood.

Both Morgan Miller and Kasen Hollingsworth replied that the wouldn’t be interested in working for someone that couldn’t see past their tattoos. All four asserted that they did not have any tattoos that they regretted and all have plans for future tattoos because, according to Alex Hibbs, “once you have one it’s hard to stop.”

Tattoos allow individuals to become walking art galleries, sharing in a long international history of tattoos. Each tattoo becomes a tie to a part of their life, including family, inner turmoil, passions, or memories. Nearly three in ten Americans and nearly fifty percent of the millennial generation bear tattoos, becoming testaments to their lived experiences and passing lives.


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