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Tattoos: symbolic, punny, and 'just there'

By Tim Brosnan
On October 31, 2018

Their origins date back to as early 3300 BC. They’ve been discovered on buried bodies of ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Somalians and even some Vikings.

Almost everyone has them.

Some have just one. Others have so many they can’t keep track anymore.

There are TV shows about them.

There are professions and businesses dedicated to them.

Celebrities, common folk, and even former United States President Theodore Roosevelt would agree on their appeal.

They are – tattoos.

But why do people get tatted?

Some get them to represent or symbolize memories or personal interests.

Some get them for no reason at all.

Castleton Alumni David Mahoney shows off his Native American princess tattoo on his forearm. 

“I think every tattoo should have some kind of meaning,” said Travis Nutbrown, owner of Death or Glory Tattoo Company in Rutland.

Nutbrown has worked as a tattoo artist since 2006 and in that time, he has tattooed people of all races, ages, shapes and sizes – including himself.

“This I got when I was young,” he said, pointing to an obscure tribal themed design on his right calf. “It don’t have no meaning to it. Most of my others do though.”

But cut the guy some slack if he can’t recall the reasoning behind one of his earlier tattoos.

“At one point, I had counted 88 tats on me, but I lost count by now. The hope is that eventually it’ll just be one big one,” Nutbrown said with a laugh.

While most people don’t have nearly as many tats as the Death or Glory owner and father of two, most would agree, a tattoo should have meaning.

“The wave I have on my arm signifies my love for the ocean,” said Castleton student Rachael Emery. “I’ve always felt this attachment to the ocean and its power. Waves also represent challenges in life for me, but waves come and go. So, it reminds me that if I go with the flow, I’ll be alright.”

Rachael Emery displays her sun and moon tattoo which is her own personal conncetion to her mother. 

For some, tats are reminders.

Others would rather forget.

Castleton alumni Mickelson Prozinski got his first tattoo last semester when he agreed to let another student use a stick and poke method to put the “Nike” swoosh on his right buttocks.

A stick and poke tattoo, according to Prozinski, is when someone takes a sterile needle, dips it in special ink and pokes your skin, going over the desired shape several times.

As you can probably imagine, it is not the most pleasant experience.

“It hurt. I heard it’s worse than a normal tat but I can’t compare because I don’t have a real one,” Prozinski said. “It’s hard to tell what it is. It kind of just looks like a blob on my ass. I don’t like looking at it, but I wouldn’t say I regret it.”

While this particular tattoo may not have come out the greatest, Nutbrown said it’s probably due to the lack of experience of the artist.

“Stick and poke tattoos are hard to do unless you’re a professional. I know some guys who do stick-and-poke so well that you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between that and a regular tat,” Nutbrown said. “I also know some guys that do water color tats that come out looking like an oil-painting. A good artist can be everything.”

But for some, it is less about the quality of the tattoo, and more about the way it makes them feel.

“I have a Medusa tattoo on my chest, which came from a joke,” said Castleton student Sam Reiver. “If you see my tattoo, you ‘get stoned’ and that always makes me laugh whenever I think about it. I also have a tattoo of Sisyphus, a dude in Greek mythology who messed up with Hades and was punished to push a boulder uphill forever, but instead of a boulder it’s my nipple.”

Sam Reiver showcases the greek themed Medusa and Sisyphus. 

Students and faculty alike have surrendered to the fascination of inking their bodies. Soundings Manager Samantha Green has even gained press at Castleton University for her famous Bernie Sanders tattoo. But when Green went to get her tattoo, she wasn’t alone.

“During the election, a lot of places down south started doing free Trump tattoos. So, a place in Winooski was like ‘f-that, we’ll give you a free Bernie tattoo.’ And I took Amy Bremel, who’s in charge of sexual violence prevention around here. We both took a day off and went and got those,” she said proudly.

But it wasn’t Green’s first rodeo. She once got a tattoo as a present for herself for completing her master’s degree and she once got inked at a flash sale where she the artist decided what she got.

But she started small.

“My first tattoo I got is on my ankle. It says ‘Addy,’ which is the name of a character I played on a tech-space roll-playing game for like 14 years. So, I did that one to try and I was like: Oh, okay I can do this,” she said.

Despite the widespread appeal of tattoos, there are still those among us who prefer to remain un-tatted.

“I was never into it,” said Castleton student Alex Carrier. “I always thought ‘What would my grandchildren think if I had wrinkly skin with tats all over?’ I still might get one on my shoulder or something someday. I haven’t decided.”

There are funny tattoos, meaningful tattoos, good tattoos, bad tattoos, and even stick-and-poke ass tattoos. All are different and unique in their own way.

And all are permanent.

While the reasons we get them, or don’t, may vary, their importance and influence on our culture remains the same.

And for some, tattoos are a way of life.

“I believe a lot of people today are in it for the money, but for me it’s really all about the art,” Nutbrown said. “I try to put everything into a tattoo whether it’s a $50 tattoo or a $2,000 tattoo. I love to see people satisfied or have people come in and tell me they love their tats cause that makes me feel like what I’m doin’ is right.”

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