A daughter's tribute etched in ink; a tattoo expo entrenched in artistry
As the 11th Annual Seattle Tattoo Expo approaches, columnist Nicole Brodeur gets her first ink: a permanent, poignant tribute to her late mother.
Seattle Times staff columnist
Rocket Reunion: Oh, to have been one of the writers, staffers, editors or photographers who put out The Rocket, the Seattle music magazine, from 1979 to 2000. The staff reunites from 2 to 7 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 5, at the Feedback Lounge in West Seattle. It's not officially open to the public, but any of the musicians and bands written up in The Rocket are welcome. And that's most of Seattle. The event is free, but donations to MusiCares (which aids musicians in need) are welcome.
Auction of Washington Wines Picnic and Barrel Auction: It's for the kids! This event, held on the grounds of Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville, allows folks to mingle with Washington winemakers, sample new and old releases and bid on barrels of limited-release wines while eating high-end picnic fare from Tulalip Resort Casino chefs. 4 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 16. Tickets are $150 and benefit Seattle Children's Hospital (www.auctionofwashingtonwines.org).
Seattle Tattoo Expo2-10 p.m. Friday, noon-10 p.m. Saturday, noon-8 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 10-12, Northwest Rooms, Seattle Center, Seattle; $15/day, $45-$70/three-day passes (206-447-7725 and www.seattletattooexpo.com).
We all have a reason. An idea. A dinner-party share about the kind of tattoo we would get, and where, and why.
For me, it was always about my mother. Since she died four years ago, her memory has inhabited my insides like a welcome virus; not only my heart but almost every one of my senses.
My sense of smell, when I catch a whiff of her perfume somewhere. My sense of taste, when I make one of her recipes. I hear the echo of her laugh in my own. I see her in the photos and paintings she made all over my house.
Marion Brodeur is there in every sense. Except touch.
So as the 11th Annual Seattle Tattoo Expo approached — it runs Friday through Aug. 12 in the Northwest Rooms at Seattle Center — it seemed time to let the memory of my mother rise to my very skin, to a place where I could see it, every day, and feel stronger. Better. With her.
Gloria Connors, the mother of the Expo, agreed to sit with me at Hidden Hand Tattoo in Fremont, where artist April Cornell would ink my mother's signature (lifted from her passport) and a small fleur-de-lis (she was born in France) to the inside of my wrist.
I arrived early to find the Nelson family of Sammamish gathered in one of the bays, where Sydney Nelson, 18, was having "bella vita" tattooed on the inside of her wrist.
"It means beautiful life," she told me. "Every time I look at it, it will make me think of what I'm thankful for."
Her sister, Jordan, 20, already had "amor" (love) tattooed on the inside of her wrist.
"I'm obsessed with Spanish, and it's the first word I learned," she said.
Their mother, France Nelson, had a small fleur-de-lis on the inside of her wrist — but a much fuzzier reason for why.
"We went to Vegas; we had a couple of drinks ... " she told me with a laugh.
We all have our reasons.
It seemed appropriate to have Connors there with me, considering the way she feels about the Tattoo Expo, which she started with Super Genius Tattoo owner Damon Conklin.
"It is my firstborn," Connors said of the event. "That is mine. Everything else has been client-based."
You may not know Connors' name, but it's likely she has shown you a good time. Her company, Connors & Co., produces events for AEG, which produces shows at every venue in the region — even the Puyallup Fair. These days, she is preparing for the Seattle Interactive Conference, which will bring brands, business leaders and consumers together with technological trendsetters in October.
The Tattoo Expo was developed with the same premise: Connors wanted to bring ever-emerging Pacific Northwest tattoo artists together, with the public, to showcase their work.
As we talked, I filled out paperwork with my name and address. Connors and I were in the thick of kibitzing about our kids when I found myself initialing a list of warnings without really reading them. Something about infections and reactions and swelling.
Trust, trust, trust, I kept telling myself. Everything would be fine.
A Harris Poll conducted earlier this year found that 21 percent of adults has at least one tattoo. That's up from 16 percent four years ago. West Coast people have more tattoos (26 percent) than those on the East Coast (21 percent), the Midwest (21 percent) and the South (18 percent).
But there's also this: About 45 percent of those polled said people with tattoos are less attractive; 39 percent think they're less sexy; and about a quarter said that people with tattoos are less intelligent, healthy or spiritual.
Cornell, who wears a bleached-blond pixie haircut and is covered in tattoos — including the names of her two daughters — started by shaving my wrist and swiping an alcohol-soaked paper towel over it.
On the wall behind her, I noticed a framed Liberty-style tattoo piece of a naked woman using her severed legs as crutches. Gulp.
But Connors, who wore 11 or 12 tattoos under a demure silk blouse, admired the work. Tattoos aren't what they used to be: the mark just for bikers and sailors. They're art. Some people just want to wear it, instead of hang it.
"People are collectors," she said. "Whether it's art on the walls, anime, cars. Tattoos used to be an alternative lifestyle, but it isn't any more."
Over the years, she has noticed more families attending the Tattoo Expo. The 20-somethings who attended 10 or 11 years ago are now in the mid-to-late 30s, carting kids who are used to the ink.
"I wanted it to be family-friendly from day one," said Connors.
So she chooses the more than 200 tattoo artists allowed to work at the Expo, which she keeps clean and professional and full of heart, right down to the R&B and soul music.
"I'm sensitive to the direction the Expo is going," she said. "I don't want it to be scary or edgy for people. I'm sensitive to what others' needs are."
Which made her the perfect companion for my First Time.
For about 40 minutes, Cornell hunched over my arm, inking, then sat back and wiped the excess black ink away. I start to like the pain. I like feeling something. I like seeing my mother's name there, like she just signed my report card and walked away to get something.
She just never came back.
After adding and shading the fleur-de-lis, Cornell gave my arm a final wipe and sat back.
It was perfect. Clean. Permanent.
Cornell had me walk into another room, where her husband, Jeff, was hunched over Joe Humrickhouse, who was getting a dragon tattoo that covered his entire back — and stopped just below his butt. (That's what he told me, anyway.) The thing will take some 60 hours to complete.
Compared with him, my tattoo looked like a mosquito bite. Still, I felt like I had been indoctrinated. Like all the thought and talk and flip-flopping had to happen in order to make me feel so ...
"Are you zippy?" Connors asked. "There's this endorphin thing that happens."
I was happy. I felt anchored. And a little pain.
Cornell wrapped my arm and gave me care instructions.
"Just remember," she said, "a tattoo is an open wound."
Perhaps. But in finally getting one, I felt like another was closing.
Nicole & Co. appears Sundays in NW Arts & Life. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Nicole & Co.
Every Sunday, I bring you a conversation with a local who is doing something great, or a great who is doing something local: media personalities, big thinkers, visiting artists, colorful characters and doers of all kinds.
email@example.com | 206-464-2334