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Tattoos that test the boundaries of time

NAPSA receives a tattoo less than 60 hours following death and embalms the skin art to later frame and return to the deceased family

Photo by NAPSA Press

NAPSA receives a tattoo less than 60 hours following death and embalms the skin art to later frame and return to the deceased family

Kayla Koch, Wellness Editor, Puma Press

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The National Association for the Preservation of Skin Art based out of Cleveland, Ohio opened its doors in early 2015 and is now fully open for business to embalm and frame the tattoos of deceased loved ones for family members.

Chairman of NAPSA, Charles Hamm, a 60-year-old tattooed gentleman, wanted to create an association that would allow for tattoos to be embalmed and preserved, but most importantly, eternally remembered.

“When I was getting more tattoo work completed on my back piece (a nearly $10,000 investment), I began considering all of the money and time (well over 150 hours) I had put into my tattoos. I had also read an article in which Johnny Depp stated his intent to have his tattoos preserved and it all inspired me to begin developing NAPSA,” Hamm said.

Saving the ink upon skin is becoming a unique form of art. Upon arriving at a funeral home, the cremator will receive a box full of tools to remove the tattooed flesh from the body. From the time of death, the cremator will have 60 hours to remove the tattooed skin from the body and send it to NAPSA where it will begin its embalming process.

“NAPSA’s proprietary process is essentially a chemical and enzymatic process that permanently alters the chemical structure of the substrate, thereby permanently fixing it against decomposition, while preserving the integrity of the art,” Hamm says.

By putting the skin through such an enzymatic embalming process, the tattoo is preserved and ultimately completes the process looking as it did at the beginning of it’s creation. In addition to being restored to its initial vibrancy, Hamm says the chemicals utilized in preserving the tattoo allow the final product to be “non-toxic and safe to handle.” Four-to-six months following the process, the tattoo will be returned to the family of the deceased.

Hayden Garner, a student at Paradise Valley Community College, has tattooed a sleeve entirely covering her left forearm. Garner has suffered the inexplicable pain of skin art and had a few words about preserving tattoos.

“Preserving tattoos is a very interesting subject in today’s society, but I want to die with my beliefs attached to me. Most parents aren’t typically too fond of tattoos anyway, so why have it hanging in their house when you can get your body compressed into a diamond with today’s technology,” Garner said.

Another PVCC student by the name of Grace Keith recently tattooed the top of her feet. As painful as it was, Keith found the idea of removing them for her potential future generations morbid.

“I think that’s disgusting. To hang up or keep a piece of someone’s skin… I don’t get it,” Keith said.

Tattoo artists are beginning to see this trend take flight and are realizing that their artwork might someday be hanging within a home. A tattoo artist at “Crawling Squid Tattoo” by the name of Veronica Doty explains her stance on the topic: “Tattoo preservation has a double edge, in my opinion. In one regard, the opportunity to preserve art and history in our craft would be a valuable tool. To see, in person, the work of masters long past would be a gift,” Doty said in an email interview.

Doty feels as though there is power with knowledge and by having the ability to study tattoo artists from the past, she feels as though she would gain the ability to better herself in her profession. However, she does see another side to this upcoming skin art preservation industry.

“Tattooing, to me, has always been greatly about the juxtaposition of a tattoo’s fleeting permanence. A tattooer invests a lot of time into each design they make for a person, and once it is done, it is no longer theirs. It is a part of the wearer and will last a lifetime. You may never see the design again. It will age and pass with the wearer,” Doty said in an email interview.

Photo by Kayla Koch
Hayden Garner, a student at PVCC, has a tatteoed sleeve upon her forearm from Veronica Doty, a tattoo artist from “Crawling Squid Tattoo located in Phoenix.

A tattoo that is crafted for a single individual has a specific and personalized meaning for them and them only. By removing the art from their skin after death, Doty thinks it may appear that they have died with their most basic beliefs about life and themselves unattached to their person.

It appears that many people have differing opinions on the removal of skin art after death. On the NAPSA website, Hamm, who is truly invested in NAPSA as the Chairman of the association, stated, “I wanted to save my ink for my loved ones and to allow my tattoos to declare who I truly am so others cannot define who I was.”

Hamm proves his statement on his website true to his actions by telling a small story about his family:

“The gorilla on my chest represents me guarding my wife, so that is obviously going to her. My grandson designed one of my lizard tattoos, so he will receive that, and my children have tattoos registered for them to receive as well. It was funny; there was almost an argument of who would get what tattoo, except for the gorilla. Everybody picked out their favorite tattoo and I had to say, ‘I’m not dead yet, hold on, give me a little life left’,” Hamm said.

Hamm told a brief story as to explain why tattoo preservation is so important to him and those he chooses to help run his association. Embalming allows tattoos and the personalities of those who preserve their skin art to pass through generations for the recipients down the line to view. Generations following the deceased may understand a person’s personality and beliefs about life from the tattoo they left behind.

“Recently, a friend of the association passed away at the young age of 34. He left behind a 2-and-a-half-year-old autistic son, Hunter. While the association was not up and running, his wife immediately reached out knowing her husband’s desire to have his tattoos preserved, specifically, his tattoo that honored Hunter. She plans to give the piece to her son so he can forever know his father,” Hamm said.

Doty, the tattoo artist of two years, related tattooing to history and its evanescence in comparison to other forms of art.

“Tattoos are actually one of the most impermanent art forms when compared to carvings in stone or painting on canvas. It is an art as mortal as we are, which is, in a way, part of the mystique,” Doty said.

Only just starting this journey of NAPSA, Hamm is already looking toward a bright future. Starting small and working their way up is their method of attack as Hamm said, “While we do only carry out the tattoo preservation benefit in the U.S. at the current moment, we do hope to eventually expand that globally.”

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Tattoos that test the boundaries of time