Thursday, June 26, 2014

Totem Animals

Like more than a few other eighteen year-olds, I went out to get my first tattoo, a cartoonish dragonfly on my right hip that I had drawn myself. I still remember the little house in Eureka, CA where I went with my friends one afternoon, the old television set turned into a tarantula terrarium and the piercer who pulled out a scorpion and let it walk all over his hands, freaking us out. But as I grew older, I knew that I would someday modify that little blue creature of ink, but just didn't know when the inspiration would come.

Flash forward a decade or so, to the time when I'm living in the Presidio of San Francisco, and going through a rough patch in my personal life. One spring day I was meditating on our porch that overlooked Baker Beach, and a little lizard joined me in the sun. I decided that this western fence lizard had shown herself to be my new totem animal, and I went about searching for an artist who could ink one onto my upper left leg (providing balance to the two tattoos on the right side of my body). It took a surprisingly long time to get an appointment for a consult with Cecilia (she was next to Rainbow Grocery at the time), but the final appointment was made for January 20, 2009, and my totem lizard was finished in time to watch President Obama's inaugural celebration that evening.

After migrating away from the Bay Area to work for a few seasons in Yosemite's high country, I landed my current job in rural Eastern Oregon. On my first evening of walking around my new (small! quiet!) hometown, I was struck by the thought that it was time to change up that little dragonfly remnant of my past - that whatever life event I'd been waiting for had finally arrived. Earlier that summer, I had encountered a number of butterflies, and decided that the swallowtail would be the icon of my metamorphosis. I worked with Lindsay, a great local artist, to cover up the blue dragonfly (look closely!) with a realistic new insect. This piece was completed in January 2012, and life has been getting better and better ever since... I met my husband about six months afterwards, and gave him a body-balancing tattoo from Lindsay for his birthday this spring!

Gypsy Burks
Exhibit Specialist
National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center

Want to share your own story and tattoo?
Email Beth: beth (at) redmond-jones (dot) com or Paul: info (at) orselli (dot) net.

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