Beauty is skin deep — and beyond — at Bangor tattoo show

Posted April 05, 2009, at 9:28 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Billie-Jo Seavey’s mother died about three years ago, and on Saturday, at the 18th annual Down East Tattoo Show, the Eddington woman commissioned an artistic memorial to her beloved parent.

“She was my best friend and the best mother in the world,” Seavey said, pausing outside the door of the Bangor Elks Club on Odlin Road, where the crowded show was in full swing.

Tenderly unwrapping several layers of clear plastic film from around her lower leg, Seavey showed off the details of her new tattoo, a sentimental confection of cherubs, hearts, flowers and floating banners.

“In Loving Memory of Mom” was inked onto a section of banner with space beneath for Seavey’s mother’s name — Nancy Noyes — and the dates of her birth and death. The information will be added later, Seavey said, after her skin calms down from the irritation and inflammation of the initial ink-staining process. The size of a fancy Valentine, the tattoo covered most of her calf area and edged around toward the shin.

“It got a little painful at the end,” she said, rewrapping the area. “After your skin’s been drilled for three hours, it gets a little sensitive.”

Inside, about 30 booths offered on-the-spot body art as well as jewelry for body piercing, sequined T-shirts, bone-handled knives, do-rags and other accessories. Tattoo artists were hard at work in many booths, intently inking designs large and small onto their clients’ chests, bellies, arms, legs, necks and backsides — “no nudity,” cautioned several prominent signs.

Dragons, sexy babes, roses, butterflies, skulls, wild animals, apples, personal portraits — everything and anything, it seems — provided inspiration for skin art. Temporary tattoos were available for those under 18 years old, including a variety of just-above-the-rear-end “tramp stamp” designs popular with young women.

At the Spider-Bite booth, 26-year-old customer Mia Vallee reclined and relaxed on a full-length table as tattoo artist “Pooch” hovered over her left thigh, filling in the details of Cat Woman’s face in a softball-sized portrait.

Why did Vallee want Cat Woman, aka Michelle Pfeiffer, permanently enshrined on her thigh?

“Because she’s a badass … beep,” Vallee answered promptly, mindful of youngsters passing by the booth.

Spider-Bite owner Jon Thomas, heavily tattooed, ponytailed and nose-ringed, said the tattoo industry is stable, even in hard financial times. In addition to skin art, his studio in Manchester, N.H., offers body piercing, hairstyling, tanning, smoking supplies, swords and knives, and chauffeured limousine services. Trade shows are always good for business, Thomas said.

Despite a certain gritty public perception of the tattoo clientele, venues like the three-day Down East Tattoo Show bring out the best in people, Thomas said.

“Look around,” he said, surveying the colorful crowd. “There’s no fighting. Everyone is relaxed and calm. People just want to get away to a fun atmosphere. That’s why I like it.”

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