Literary tattoos fuse flesh and fiction
Some people simply type their favorite quotes from books into their Facebook status updates -- or post their favorite book-based characters as their profile picture -- whereas others take it a step further and get them permanently inked on their bodies.
Amy Gutowski is one of these people. She has the sentence "One lives to find out," a Mark Twain quote from "Life on the Mississippi," tattooed on her wrist. She created the stylized font herself to make it look like she scribbled on herself with a Sharpie.
"Those words helps me to let go of guilt I have from the past, as well as not freak out about what is to come," says Gutowski, a 37-year-old mentor teacher for Milwaukee Public Schools.
A year later, Gutowski added another tattoo under the Twain text, this time an illustration from a picture book called "Days I Like" by Lucy Hawkins. Gutowski had both tattoos done at Adambomb, 2028 N. Martin Luther King Dr.
"I am very hard on myself at times, thinking I should do everything perfect the first time around. My tattoo helps to remind me that am I forever learning, along with my students and the new teachers I work with," she says.
Recently, the tattoo world's sub-genre of literary tattoos garnered limelight through Web sites like Contrariwise.org and a book called "Literary Tattoos from Bookworms World Wide" by Eva Talmadge and Justin Taylor. Both showcase indelible body markings of famous writers' quotes from Edward Gorey to J.K. Rowling.
Julio Avila is a tattoo artists at Solid State Tattoo, 2660 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., and he agrees that literary tattoos became increasingly more popular over the past few years. Recently, he's done four or five tattoos from Shel Silverstein's "The Giving Tree," a few "Alice In Wonderland" tattoos and numerous text-only passages from various novels and poems.
"Literary tattoos are pretty popular. I don't know if this means we're getting more well-read clients or reading is cool again or what," he says.
When Molly Cassidy was 5 years old, she received a copy of "The Story of Ferdinand" by Munro Leaf and it remained a favorite throughout her life. Like most things, the story took on deeper meaning for her as an adult.
"I began thinking of Ferdinand again, and how throughout his life, he did what was most important to him: observing the beauty around him and taking time to smell the flowers," says Cassidy. "To pay homage to a story that has meant so much to me throughout my life, I decided to get a tattoo of him, as a constant reminder for me to slow down, take a deep breath and just be."
Cassidy, a registered nurse who works at Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, got her Ferdinand tattoo in 2005. She had Cutthroat Tattoo, 1415 N. Brady St. put it on her arm.
Childhood reading also inspired Scott Ward, a 37-year-old bartender at Juniper 61, 6030 W. North Ave., who got a tattoo from the book "Where The Wild Things Are" by Maurice Sendak 18 years ago from Black Dragon tattoo in Waukesha.
"The story always reminds me of the power of the imagination," says Ward. "I really appreciate that."
Ward's tattoo depicts the scene where the main character in the story, a little boy named Max, marches through the jungle with the wild things.
Melody Hoffman sports a literary tattoo of sorts, too. Hoffman's is of Ira Glass, the host of National Public Radio's "This American Life." Hoffman says she got the tattoo because she's a big fan of the show, but also because she likes getting absurd tattoos.
"I talked to Ira Glass about this tattoo before I got it. He was not totally into the idea, but when I met him in person last year he seemed excited to meet me. Whew," she says.
Hoffmann got her tattoo on her right calf in the spring of 2008 at Adambomb. Her friend, artist Dani Sparrow, designed it.
"I regret the placement a bit because in the summer the tattoo is very visible. People ask me about it all the time. People often assume it is either Buddy Holly and Al Franken," says Hoffmann.
I still think fondly of Tulips and Chimneys
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