Tattoo Museum's lasting impression

Owner says many decide to `get a little something'

Scene: clubs, bars, nightlife

March 18, 2004|By Sarah Schaffer | Sarah Schaffer,SUN STAFF

Step through the colorful doors of the Baltimore Tattoo Museum on Eastern Avenue, and you'll be met by two plastic Chinese dragons, several old black-and-white photographs, a glass case of vintage inking machines and one written invitation.

Printed neatly on the wall, it reads: "Come in and feel the history."

Over the years, that introductory statement - half greeting, half dare - may have daunted some who have visited the curious Fells Point destination.

But according to co-owner Bill Stevenson, throngs of tourists have been meeting the challenge since the quirky spot opened in 1999.

"I've been absolutely surprised at the number of people who come to Baltimore for a day trip and wind up here saying, "I think I'll get a little something," said Stevenson, who believes the permanent souvenir phenomenon will definitely continue.

The storefront's undeniable charm could be what gives Tattoo Museum visitors that crucial surge of spontaneity.

From original and historical flash (pre-drawn designs that usually hang framed on shops' walls) to tattoo-inspired kids' toys (Butterfly Art Barbie and a Hot Wheels Tattoo Designer Kit, to name a few), the location is filled with artifacts and ephemera that offer an informative, entertaining and lighthearted tribute to the oft-maligned art form.

But while the pastiche of colorful designs and pop culture items present an enjoyable visual feast, Stevenson thinks it's the museum's more serious educational elements that draw many for a visit.

"Some people have no idea how [tattooing] works. [And unlike some other shops,] we're a little more open about it," Stevenson noted, pointing to an observation area that allows patrons to view equipment sterilization in progress.

At the Tattoo Museum, "you can kind of get a greater perspective on how the whole process works before you even get in the chair," he said.

Customer, tattoo veteran and Baltimore resident Lori Nelson agreed.

"I've been in some dive shops [that were] every mother's worst nightmare, [but] this shop is clean," said the 22-year-old Cleveland native, who sought out the location because of the staff's reputation for quality artistry and willingness to discuss safety practices.

Nelson, one of many local patrons, believes the storefront provides potential tattoo clients with knowledge that can keep them healthy and safe.

"For someone coming to get their first tattoo, [it's important to] see what an autoclave [sterilizer] is," she said, as Tattoo Museum artist Josh Griffin began to outline a rocket ship on the inside of her left arm.

Stevenson couldn't agree more.

"A well-educated customer is our best customer," he said.

The Baltimore Tattoo Museum is at 1534 Eastern Ave. Hours are noon-9 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays and noon-8 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays. Call 410-522-5800 or visit www.baltotat.com.

Tattoo Museum

Owners: Bill Stevenson and Chris Keaton

Founded in: 1999

Staff: Five artists currently work at the shop.

Services: In addition to the exhibition, the Tattoo Museum offers tattoo and piercing services.

Rules: Tattoo clients must be 18 or older with proper identification. As with most shops, there is a $50 minimum for all tattoo work.

Admission: Admission to the museum is free.

Contact: Call 410-522-5800 or visit www.baltotat.com.

For club events, see Page 31.

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