Tattoos are among the earliest and most universal art forms. For more than 5,000 years, cultures from every continent have been using tattoos to symbolize status, rites of passage, or simply as personal embellishment.
The oldest discovery of tattooed human skin is found on Ötzi the Iceman, dating between 3370 and 3100 BC.
Yet, in 1961 New York City (and many other cities) declared it “unlawful for any person to tattoo a human being”. This was a prohibition that remained on the books for nearly four decades, until the city finally re-legalized the tattoo trade in 1997.
However, because Columbus Georgia’s rich military history and tattoo history run parallel, we did not succumb to the hysteria (besides making it illegal on Sundays).
A few buildings have been operating as tattoo shops for over 40 years. The oldest of these is Royal Anchor (previously, Superior Skin Art) on Victory Drive.
Tattoos have undergone dramatic redefinition throughout more recent years. Once viewed as a form of deviance, their growing popularity has infiltrated into mainstream society, and is now viewed as an acceptable form of expression for men and women.
On average, one in five Americans have a tattoo.
The globalization and information age we experience today, which highlight niche groups, via the internet, reality television, etc., have merged the sub-culture of the tattoo scene with the mainstream.
Despite the social stigma, Columbus has continued to cultivate tattoo artists and culture.
Columbus’ own Coralee Bragg first realized she wanted to be a tattoo artist when she was about 21, while working in Superior Skin Art as a receptionist.
“I was always an artist, so it started to form in my mind as the perfect job for me, but I didn’t learn to tattoo until I was 30,” Cora explains.
If you learn to tattoo, it is usually because someone believes in you. From ancient Japan to classic early 1900’s America, the art of tattooing has been passed down from mentor to apprentice, and is still reputedly taught by apprenticeship.
Cora was taught by a few different artists, but believes she received the best tutelage and most positive influence from Todo Brennan, who now owns ABT tattoo in McDonough, GA.
Aiming to continually evolve, Cora shares, “I look at nature and it humbles me; the edges, colors and textures are already perfection. Plus, natural energies soak into you when you focus on your environment.”
Coming from a family of business owners, Cora always knew that one day she would own her own shop. The opportunity came in 2009 when she was working for an owner who was not taking care of his side of the shop.
“It became sink or swim,” Cora explains, “I took the opportunity to follow my personal dreams and bought him out, changed the name, and Black Lotus was born on November 5, 2009.”
Cora agrees that tattoos have become more and more acceptable in society as an art form. People from all walks of life and ages are interested in her ink, instead of showing negative judgement.
“People have great questions and they now know that they can just talk to us and we won’t bite. The rough, sketchy persona has began to recede, and a new, societal outlook on our business is emerging. It is now more accepted that your child’s kindergarten teacher may be a tattooed professional, as well as the rough-around-the-edges bikers, riding their motorcycles down the highway. The best part of the commercialization of tattooing is how it helps acceptance of those who choose to adorn their bodies for whatever reason they see fit. Before, it was for people on the shadier side of life, or soldiers documenting their travels and loves.”
The military has consistently been a major demographic of the tattoo scene. Whether as a sign of accomplishments, to denote military rankings, in remembrance of friends lost in battle, or tattoos can simply be a sign of love and loyalty to one’s country.
“Sailor” Bill Killingsworth was a local, Marine Veteran, Carnie, Ganster, Biker, Tattoo Artist, Father and Husband, who is considered a pioneer in the tattoo world.
“Many of the stories you hear about Bill consist of bad tattoos and guns, but he was respected by many. Claiming the title of “King of Victory Drive,” Sailor Bill found himself in a long time war with rival tattoo shop owner, Fast Freddie. It is said that they would drive by each other’s shops and shoot out windows to remind each other that the competition wasn’t going anywhere.” Our City Of Fountains
In the 1990s, shops began moving north and migrating off of Victory Drive. However, Victory Drive still houses the majority of the shops and has the largest collection within a close proximity – thanks to Fort Benning!
You can find awesome shops with talented artists all over Columbus, except downtown. Unfortunately, Columbus has zoned everything from Front Street to Veterans Parkway, unable to tattoo and pierce.
Fred “Falcon” Sibary of Falcon Tattoos had to move his shop off of Broadway after being there for 6 years. Being grandfathered in, he was unaware of the new zoning ordinance when he gave up his lease and tried to move his business across the street. Fred, and his shop, relocated to Veterans Parkway but it is now closed.
During the changes of Uptown, perhaps this decision was reached due to the stigma and rough history attached to tattoo shops at that point. Planning director Rick Jones said Columbus envisions other uses for Broadway, like arts, residential, and retail.
As more and more of these shops are considered artistic hubs, maybe the zoning will change in the future.
Uptown is growing vastly, and becoming synonymous with art in all forms. Maybe a boutique tattoo shop could make sense for the continuously budding district, with art galleries and a fashion show to feature the beautiful art of tattooing.
Blake Russell, a local, and Salt model, who received most of his tattoos in prison, explains, “A lot of the mainstream, European, male models are killing it because of their tattoos. For instance, possibly one of the most popular male models in the game right now is Stephen James. Everyone is excepting tattoos as art.”
If you are interested in getting a tattoo, or another one, since they tend to be addictive, “Black Lotus and Iron Rose House have 9 amazing artists between both shops; Captain Morgan, John Allred, Mark Rice, Holly Clouse, Ryan Marsau, Ryan Stark, Tomas Clough, Malia Sioux, Sam Moore, and Lady Cora. Of course I am biased, but we can do any and all styles,” explains Cora. “Atomic Tattoo is another reputable shop owned by Donnie Schrongegost. Archangel Tattoo puts out beautiful work as well, owned by Michael Heard. There are a lot of great artists and shops in town, and you can check out their portfolios to garner your exact preference and style.”
Lastly, this is the last month to support an exhibit about the subject at our local, Columbus Museum: “We Tattooed Your Father: The Global Art of Tattoos” on display February 21 – June 26, 2016.
This exhibition explores the colorful history of tattoos in the Chattahoochee Valley, from Muscogee (Creek) warriors to Fort Benning soldiers and civilian residents. In addition to examining the talents of contemporary local tattoo artists, the exhibit will include a global overview of tattooing and its artistic traditions. Works from Ronie Dalton’s popular 2009 art project with local soldiers, “A Break in the Battle: Tattoo Project/Fort Benning” will be included.
Here is a short preview and insight of the exhibit by our latest partners, Pvlse Media:
*Special thanks to Coralee Bragg, Blake Russell and Kristi Snyder for helping with content and pictures.