Inky Seamen and other Delights 

It’s a Sailor’s Grave for me, me bucko

Tattooing and the sailor are inextricably linked. In the old days, it was pretty much only the rough ’n’ tumble shellback who got inked, not the high school graduate or the guy who just passed the bar exam. Sailors’ tattoos were not just decoration, although a little bit of flash was no doubt part of their appeal; nautical tattoos were a visual language that told your peers who you were and where you’d been. An anchor denoted you’d crossed the Atlantic, and the full-rigged Clipper ship slicing through foaming waves – known as a Homeward Bound – meant you’d sailed ’round the Cape Horn. But if that Clipper was holed below the waterline and sinking rapidly, it was called the Sailor’s Grave. This grim tattoo was a reverse-jinx, a talisman meant to ward off the very fate it depicted. It’s one bad-ass tattoo, still menacing and evocative today – and how many of us have to worry about our car sinking on the way to work? Tonight from 5:30 to 11 p.m., the Sailor’s Grave is in full effect at the Drive Agency, when tattoo artists from around the country exhibit their non-skin-based art in Drive’s gallery. Some antique tattooing equipment will also be on display, and Joe Cumbee of Iron Age – who happens to do one hell of a fantastic Homeward Bound, by the way – will be tattooing folks throughout the evening. Admission is free, and food and drinks will be available, so if you’re gonna have Cumbee do a little work on you, maybe you should ask for a compass – that one’s supposed to help you find your way home no matter what condition you’re in.
Fri., May 16, 2008

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