Shaun Purvin has a left leg Maryland's founding family, the Calverts, would love.
It's tattooed with Maryland flags, an oriole and a raven, a blue crab, an anchor (think the Naval Academy) and maybe a couple of other Free State references you might not notice right away. It's enough to make any Marylander salute.
Why all the Maryland glory? It's simple, says Purvin, 26, with a degree of nonchalance that suggests the answer should be obvious. "I live in Maryland."
Purvin's devotion to his state may go above and beyond, but his willingness to display that loyalty on his body turns out to be not all that unusual. Plenty of people have their pride in Maryland and Baltimore inscribed directly on their persons, whether it be in the form of a flag, the Baltimore skyline, an Orioles bird or the somber face of favorite son Edgar Allan Poe.
"People take pride in Baltimore," says Dave Wah, a local tattoo artist who's one of scores who will be showing off the amazing things they can do with needle and ink at this year's Baltimore Tattoo Arts Convention, running today through Sunday at the Baltimore Convention Center. "Besides Orioles and Ravens, they'll get Natty Boh symbols, different landmarks. … Every tattooer in Baltimore has done their fair share."
Agrees Emily Gorman, 31, manager of Black Lotus Tattoo Gallery in Hanover, "Oh yeah, we have a lot of clients that have a strong sense of Baltimore pride." Her customers have walked out displaying the Domino Sugars sign, the National Aquarium, even the 410 area code.
Not surprisingly, the most popular area-themed tattoos are Ravens and Orioles. Right now, people are asking for O's tattoos — several fans were seen sporting them on Opening Day — but that'll undoubtedly change once football season approaches. And success breeds even more tattoos, as the Ravens' win over the 49ers in February 2013 showed.
"After the Super Bowl, there was definitely a handful more people coming in to get Ravens tattoos," says Wah, 33. Normally, he stresses, the split between Ravens and Orioles fans is about 50/50.
Not everyone agrees with that even split, however. Tony Church, 47, who goes by the name Tony Scientific and tattoos out of Best of Time Tattoo & Body Piercing in Catonsville, estimates he does twice as many Ravens as Orioles. Then again, he once tattooed a Cal Ripken portrait on a guy's thigh, basing it on a Sports Illustrated cover.
"People will ask for just about almost anything," he says.
Samantha Miller, a 24-year-old nursing home worker living in Port Republic, has eschewed sports logos, but still happily shows off her civic pride. The backs of her thighs are adorned with ribbons that look like the Maryland flag, plus two iconic Baltimore symbols: one thigh has Mr. Boh, the other the Utz girl.
"I got it based on the billboard in Baltimore," she says proudly (although, she admits, her tattoo includes no wedding ring, as the Smyth Jewelers ad she references does).
Like Purvin's, Miller's motivation for decorating herself with a local theme is pretty cut-and-dried. "Maryland's my home state," she says. "I love it."
Steven "Shady" Smith, a tattoo artist working out of Red Octopus Tattoos in Calvert County, has made the Maryland flag something of a specialty. He says a customer asks for some sort of flag-themed tattoo "at least every couple weeks." He's done a rose with the flag — and its distinctive red, black and yellow color scheme — as its petals. He's done the flag with the words from the U.S. Constitution printed on it. He's put Mr. Boh on a Maryland flag.
Smith, 37, guesses he's done about 50 flag-themed tattoos over the past couple years. "We have the coolest flag in the U.S.," he says.
But Smith doesn't restrict his locally themed work to the flag. He also finds a steady demand for Poe-themed tattoos.
"That's a big one," he says. "You'll get his face, you'll get a raven, you'll get a heart, like in 'The Tell-Tale Heart.'" And while he hasn't done one himself, he says he's seen people sporting tattoos of film director John Waters and his longtime muse, Divine.
"In Maryland," Smith says, "we have the most state pride there is."