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Saturday, April 22, 2017

The "Totally Gross Tattoo Preservation" Story

It was an ordinary day.  Reading about what I may be asked to mat and frame in the near future.  Since retiring from teaching in 1999, I have worked at Grebinger Gallery in Neffsville, PA matting and framing a variety of items; everything from historical documents and family portraitures to swim caps and sheep's wool.  Now it seems I may be asked to mat and frame ... you ready for this ... human tattoos.  Seems it all started back in 2014 when Peter van der Helm and Judith van Bezu began the foundation for the art and science of tattooing.  The foundation was based in Amsterdam and exists largely to preserve tattoos after a person dies.  These tattoos can be given to relatives or displayed in exhibits of tattoo art.  
Charles Hamm showing his NAPSA certificate
Not much more was heard about the procedure or how it was done, until recently when a Cleveland, Ohio accountant, 60 year old Charles Hamm, formed a new non-profit known as the National Association for the Preservation of Skin Art (NAPSA).  Mr. Hamm has developed a process by which tattoos and the skin surrounding them can be removed from your corpse and preserved, allowing your friends or relatives to literally keep a piece of you forever.  My youngest son has covered close to 75% of his body with skin art and some of it is beautiful.  I wrote a story a few years ago telling of my trip to the tattoo parlor with him to watch him get a tattoo on his leg in honor of his grandmother, my mom.  
My son Tad (left) and and tattoo artist Steve
The artist, Steve, was a former student of mine who was an extremely talented artist in high school.  Just as Steve finished, he handed me his tattoo tool and asked me to put the finishing dot on his work.  I was honored and did just that.  I'm not quite sure what my son would think of Mr. Hamm's idea, but if he chose to have one of his tattoos preserved and passed on to a friend or relative, he would first have to join NAPSA.  There is $115 fee to join NAPSA with yearly dues of $60.  
LDub working on the tattoo
If you have more than one tattoo you want to will to someone, the cost is $100 for each additional tattoo.  If you sign up when you are older, and perhaps your tattoos have begun to wrinkle, your $60 may not have to be paid too many years before you die.  But, for my son who is just over 40, it could cost him plenty for the yearly membership fee.  The beneficiary does get a stipend of $2,000 to defray the costs of preserving the tattoo.  Mr. Hamm, who has invested thousands of dollars on his tattoos, believes his foundation will allow people carrying tattoos on them to will their artwork to whomever they may wish.  So, just how does this procedure work.  Well, after paying your fee to join, and the yearly dues, you take photos of the willed tattoos and upload the images and story behind the tattoo to the NAPSA website.  
This is the framed piece of preserved skin.  Don't
count of me to do this for you.  Totally gross!
After death, your beneficiary contacts NAPSA who overnights a kit with instructions for removal within 60 hours; usually to the funeral home.  The tattooed skin is returned in a prepaid package and within six months the tattoo is returned to the beneficiary.  Now, it becomes my job to finish the job for you.  What color mat and what style frame do you want to display the dead friend or relative's skin?  Pretty gross, right?  And, I have to handle it!  Not sure what I will do when Keith, the owner of the shop and a former student of mine, tells me what I am framing.  Certainly will pull a pair of gloves over my hands.  And, what about the smell?  Does preserved, yet still dead, skin smell?  If so, does it smell like death?  And, exactly what does death smell like?  I'm beginning to freak myself out right now ... so this is the end of the story.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.      

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