Katelyn Long’s “the small talk:” or how small talk gets you places

Katelyn Long is thus far the only person we know who has connections to the Lexington, Cincinnati, and Boulder Tattoo Projects.

Katelyn wanted to participate in the Lexington Tattoo Project when we launched it almost three years ago. Because at the time she was a student of Transylvania University, where the two of us teach, she was automatically ineligible for participation (we had only 2 rules that disqualified people; being a Transylvania student was one of them). That she was also a babysitter for us and gave our kids swimming lessons did not help her :).

Then the Cincinnati Tattoo Project happened, but Katelyn heard about it a bit late. So she got on the waiting list…until someone backed out!

Significantly, Katelyn just graduated from Transylvania and is headed to graduate school at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Here is Katelyn’s story:

“I was born at Christ Hospital in Cincinnati in 1992. We lived in Cincinnati for a year before my family moved just south of the Ohio river, in that part of Kentucky where people say they’re from Cincinnati. I suppose I never realized how important home was to me until I moved to Lexington to start college. The majority of my family still lives in Cincinnati and I usually see them only around Christmas time. I almost always miss the WEBN fireworks because the first day of school is always the next morning.  I miss ice-skating in Fountain Square, because (sorry, Lexington) Triangle Park just isn’t the same.

These are all things I realize I love about the area I am from, things I never really appreciated until I moved farther away. I now know never to take them for granted. I also know that the last stop to get a Cincinnati-style three-way is the Skyline in Dry Ridge, KY.

One of the reasons I really liked the phrase ‘the small talk:’ is because that’s how everyone starts to know each other, through small talk. One of the topics always covered is where you’re from. Right next to my phrase are four little bees I drew to symbolize the bee farm I grew up on. Where I grew up had such an impact on where I am today, and that was a good enough reason for me to permanently get it inked into my skin (though my mom might not agree). I now have a permanent reminder of the city I was so fortunate to live in. I love sharing my story of the meaning behind ‘the small talk:’. This fall, when I move to Boulder, Colorado for graduate school, I can’t wait to share my story with the people there. Maybe I’ll even be lucky enough to meet people from the Boulder Tattoo Project and they can tell me their stories too.”

Katelyn Long

Katelyn Long’s “the small talk:”

“In hearts, not stone”

You could say that the Cincinnati Tattoo Project was conceived exactly two years ago when we visited ArtWorks for the first time. We drove up to Cincinnati on the invitation of a friend who told us we “should meet Tamara.” And so we did. And if you know Tamara Harkavy, you would understand why in the process of “meeting Tamara” we ended up giving a presentation about our ongoing artworks. One of them was the Lexington Tattoo Project. Tamara and her team loved the concept: using poetry and tattoos to create a visible statement of people’s commitment to their city and build a network of citizens supporting each other. They also loved the photographs and stories of participants we shared with them.

Delight Hanover

Delight Hanover’s “eye” from the Lexington Tattoo Project

Two years, a dozen visits, and many many conversations and brainstorming sessions later, the Cincinnati Tattoo Project is in full swing! Like all the participants in it, the two of us are enamored with the poem written by the poets of Chase Public, a poem that states loudly and clearly the community’s love for their extraordinary hometown. Earlier this year, we divided the poem into 261 phrases and designed each of them as a unique tattoo that includes design elements inspired by the city’s seven hills. When all the tattoos are put together in the shape of the poem, the design elements combine into a secret image. You want to know what that image is? You’ll have to join us at a party in November!

In the meantime, look for the Cincinnati Tattoo Project tattoos on forearms, feet, and fingers. See if you can spot them at the grocery store or at the movies. The two of us will continue to enjoy all the connections that this artwork nurtures, or at least the publicly visible ones. And we will keep sharing photographs and stories on the blog of the Cincinnati Tattoo Project website.

Kimberly Carlin

Kimberly Carlin’s “eyes” from the Cincinnati Tattoo Project (image courtesy of Kimberly Carlin)

Patricia Lee

Patricia Lee’s “in hearts, not stone.” (image courtesy of Patricia lee)



Ernie Ray’s Gifts

Some time in early November 2013, while the tattooing marathon for the Boulder Tattoo Project was gathering speed, Chelsea Pohl, Project Manager of the Boulder Project, came up with a brilliant idea: anyone who wanted to get a tattoo but had missed the initial call for participants could get one of the commas left over after Anne Waldman’s poem was given away as tattoo words, phrases, and punctuation signs. Folks could pay $25 to have their comma inked and thus enter the Boulder Comma Club, the Western relative of Lexington’s “of the Universe” Club, which Jack X Taylor started nearly a year earlier.

Almost as soon as Chelsea announced the Boulder Comma Club on Facebook, we received a message from Ernie Ray, the only participant in the Lexington Tattoo Project to get a stand-alone comma as part of the Lexington artwork. Though initially Ernie had committed to his Lexington comma as his first and only tattoo, he wrote to ask whether he could pay to have one of the Boulder commas tattooed in Lexington AND send $25 to Boulder to pay for someone else’s comma. Of course, we thought that Ernie’s offer was generous and fun, and we loved the idea of more connections between Lexington and Boulder. We consulted with Chelsea and we said yes!

It was Gail Loveland who received a Boulder Tattoo Project comma courtesy of Ernie. And Ernie has now extended this offer to any participant in any of the other city-based Tattoo Projects who would like a comma. Ernie will pay both for his own comma from that Tattoo Project AND for the comma of a local resident. Thank you, Ernie. You make us smile whenever we think of your big heart and your collection of commas.

Ernie Ray

Ernie Ray, gifter and collector of commas

Ernie Ray's Boulder comma gift

Ernie Ray’s Boulder comma gift for Gail Loveland

Lexington Tattoo Project featured in UnderMain

When UnderMain, Lexington’s new online magazine which “chronicles the affairs of a progressive city in a variety of media only the web can deliver,” approached us for a review of the Lexington Tattoo Project book, we were super excited. This would be the first critical review of our book. And we knew just the person to ask: anthropologist and photographer Steve Pavey. We trusted Steve to ask difficult questions, informed by his commitment to serving the larger community, always with an emphasis on social justice. So we asked Steve and he said yes.

In the first issue of UnderMain, you can not only read his review, but also see a few of the photographs Mick Jeffries, a photographer, oral historian, and a good friend, snapped while the two of us were giving our first (and likely last) tattoo: to Robert Alleyne, the tattoo artist who believed in our vision behind the Lexington Tattoo Project from the very beginning.

And we owe a few thanks, we always do: Thank you, Steve, for reviewing our book and asking hard questions about our artwork. Thank you, Mick, for capturing beautiful photographs. Thank you, Robert, for asking us to tattoo you and trusting us not to injure you. Thank you, UnderMain, for featuring this communal artwork in your inaugural issue.

Bianca Spriggs’ gravitational pull

That’s right: Bianca’s words pulled us all together into a community of folks sporting words and dots–visible marks of our commitment to Lexington and to each other.

Thank you, Bianca, for not saying no when we asked you if you would write a poem as a love letter to Lexington. Thank you for crafting a beautifully complex love letter to our city. Thank you for your willingness to play along. We are so glad no one’s invented those anti-grav moon boots for poets! (At least not yet…)

Here is Bianca’s story of her tattoo, which says “gravitational pull”:

“Having lived primarily in Lexington for over 20 years, I’ve not made it a secret that I feel I am involved in a very complex relationship with this city. Especially since every time I try to spend any sort of significant time living in another location, I am compelled to return. I know others who have spoken of this same draw. Whenever I meet visitors who say they are passing through for the first time, I jokingly tell them to be careful because if Lexington takes a shine to them, they will be back for good. At first, I used to worry about it because it was less about the city itself and more about how I dislike feeling trapped, but then I began to think about how Lexington is so integral to my identity. My development as an artist and my principles and standards as an activist were groomed here through prolonged exposure to brilliant, accepting mentors and collaborators in a vibrant, creative community set against the backdrop of a rich artistic and literary tradition. Ultimately, I have come to think of the force that keeps me rooted in Lexington as necessary to my continued growth. To that end, I’m happy to continue to live, work, and play here until the cosmos says otherwise. Or until someone invents anti-grav ‘moon boots’ for poets.”

Bianca Spriggs

Bianca Spriggs’ “gravitational pull”

down Broadway to Gratz Park Maybe a dance party

If you bring your dancing shoes, there may be a dance party.

Either way, we will party at the Lexington Tattoo Project book launch at The Carnegie Center on Friday, February 7. See you at 7 pm.

This will be the last public event for all of you folks with Lexington Tattoo Project tattoos–and for those of you loving the folks with tattoos–so you’d better come.

Of course, we will miss all of you afterwards.

downbroadway string small

down Broadway to Gratz Park Maybe a dance party (with Margueritte Williams, Matthew Cook, Denise Bradburn-Livers, and Doug Williams)

How we got roped into making a book (and mixing metaphors)

That’s right–this is another part of the Lexington Tattoo Project that the two of us did not plan or even anticipate. To the contrary, when folks started asking us if there would be a book, we were united in our certainty: there was no way we could make time to make a book.

Then two of the participants, Griffin VanMeter and Wyn Morris, had breakfast together. By the time the scrambled-eggs course was over, they had decided that there would be a book and that the two of them would help bring it into being. At the end, it was the NoLi CDC and the Morris Book Shop that helped fund the book, with generous support from the Knight Foundation Donor Advised Fund at Blue Grass Community Foundation.

Pre-order your books now through Morris Book Shop. Pre-order pricing rates end on February 6. And come to the book launch at The Carnegie Center on Friday, February 7 at 7 pm! (Surprises will abound.)

What do Griffin and Wyn have to say about the book? “It’s gonna be huge!”

Griffin and Wyn

Griffin VanMeter and Wyn Morris read the book together (they look pleased)