Ink is for girls: Exhibit features area tattoo artists

ESCANABA – Visitors to the William Bonifas Fine Arts Center may be surprised to see images of tattooed arms and legs mixed in with canvases and sculptures this month. It’s all part of a new exhibit celebrating the women behind tattoos.

The exhibit titled “The Most Daringly Unconventional Women of Our Time” focuses on the women of tattooing from both a historical and artistic perspective.

“Most tattooists are artists in their own right first, so a part of this exhibit is to display somebody’s traditional artwork along with their human canvases’ art work,” said Bonifas Arts Center Executive Director Mollie Larsen. Six female tattoo artists from across the country are featured in the exhibit, including Jacqueline Beach and Eddie Moritz of Black Iris Studios in Escanaba, who spearheaded the exhibit.

“I’ve actually done exhibits like this back in Seattle with a group called the Women’s Tattoo Forum,” said Beach, of which she was a member.

Beach said these exhibits were the inspiration for the one currently on display at the Bonifas.

The Women’s Tattoo Forum was founded by Gypsy Jill, who is actually listed in the history portion of the exhibit, she said. This includes a timeline showing influential tattooed women and female tattoo artists stretching as far back as 1851.

“These are considered the ‘grandmas’ now in the tattoo profession,” said Larsen indicating a few women from the 1970s on the timeline. “These are people who have been tattooing for lots and lots of years and are really well known in the tattoo world of women.”

A wide variety of people attended the opening reception for the exhibit on Jan. 10, including many without tattoos.

“I thought we were going to have a lot of young tattooed people but we had a lot of older people who didn’t seem to have tattoos but were interested and talked about it,” said Larsen.

Just like the exhibit’s visitors, reviews of the show have been mixed.

The Beach and Moritz will also be leading two free discussions in connection with the exhibit.

“We’re getting a real mixed response to it. Some people just don’t understand it,” said Larsen. “They don’t understand the drawing on your body part, a lot of older people have a problem with that. But, you’d be surprised at how many people are enjoying it.”

The first discussion titled “Tattoo Artists: Perspectives, Choices & Challenges” will be held on Jan. 24. The discussion will focus on choosing an artist and studio, artistic moments in tattooing, and traditional art forms practiced by tattoo artists.

The second discussion, “Tattoo Artists: Renegades, Suicide Girls & 4 Degrees from Maude” will take place on Jan. 31. The talk will examine the history of tattooed women and societal responses to women with tattoos or who are in the tattooing profession.

For more information about the exhibit or to register for either of the discussion sessions visit