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Making their mark

The Baltimore Sun

In the 1970s, Jacci Gresham says, most tattoos were done in just one or two shades of ink.

"I would see these butterflies and roses that would just have two colors - get 'em in, get 'em out. Bam, that's a wrap," recalls Gresham, who is one of the first black women to gain prominence as a tattoo artist. "But you can make some stuff look pretty. I used to do - and still do - five, six colors whenever I can."

Using the full spectrum - it's just one way tattooing has evolved over the years.

"I remember the days when you'd walk down the street and someone would see you and they'd cross the street to get away from you," said Bob Baxter, editor of Skin & Ink magazine. "And now in a supermarket you'll get a little 5-year-old being pushed around in the basket with his legs dangling out and say, 'Hey, Mom, look at his tats!'"

Baxter and Gresham are among the guests slated to be in Baltimore on Saturday as a part of Baltimore Museum of Art's program "Baltimore Ink: Patterns on Bodies."

"I think having an event like this at the museum helps lend a little more legitimacy or credibility to the art," said Preston Bautista, the BMA's public programs manager. "What we're hoping also to do is dispel some of the stigma that's attached to tattooing and people with tattoos."

In addition to a panel discussion, the BMA will bring out a 72-foot runway to show off the work of Baltimore tattoo artists.

Between each of those artists, Baxter said, is a strong bond.

"When you get tattooed, you are joining an international family, as it were," said Baxter, whose three sons are tattoo artists. "Complete strangers in any city, if they see your tattoos and they're tattooed, you start a conversation. It's an amazing connection."

It's a connection with a unique meaning to Gresham. A New Orleans resident, Gresham feels bonded with residents who were forced to leave after Hurricane Katrina.

"People are homesick. People still want to come home," said Gresham, who lost one of her tattoo shops in the hurricane.

She said she's now tattooing such New Orleans-centered images as the crawfish and the Superdome. Like many tattoos, they're a permanent reminder of a significant event.

"Worldwide, people are using tattoos to declare their tribal connection, to declare who they are," Baxter said. "Some of it is attached to cultures that are several thousand years old and some of it is people that are getting tattooed because they want to be able to declare who they are in a world in which we're pretty much getting reduced to our Social Security number.

"So, it's a way of saying what's on the inside of me, on the outside."

"Baltimore Ink: Patterns on Bodies" will be at the Baltimore Museum of Art, 10 Art Museum Drive, on Saturday. Tickets are $20; $15 with a student ID. Tickets for the runway show only are $10. Call 443-573-1701 or go to artbma.org.

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