The Tattoo Business Goes Mainstream at Hotel Roanoke

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Rosanna Jakob came all the way from Amsterdam to appear at the Roanoke Convention.

Rosanna Jakob came all the way from Amsterdam to appear at the Roanoke Convention.
Rosanna Jakob came all the way from Amsterdam to appear at the Roanoke Convention.

The Hotel Roanoke’s Convention Center played host to world famous tattoo artists recently at the first Roanoke Tattoo Convention.  Artists came from Japan, Amsterdam, Australia and Ecuador to showcase their work.

Working alongside the international contingent were local tattoo artists from Alex’s New Tattoo and Cherry Bomb Tattoo in Roanoke.

Eddie Yeary, co-owner of Cherry Bomb Tattoo, with locations in Vinton and Rocky Mount, said that the convention turnout was low, but that was to be expected for a first year event.  Yeary is a seasoned tattoo conventioneer and expects the crowd to double by next year. This one had been two years in the making, noted Yeary.

The crowd was a mix of different ages, races, and styles. Standing side by side were  bikers, parents with young children and seniors. Many reported they had come to experience their first tattoo.

Rosanna Jakob, of Derma Donna Tattoo in Amsterdam, travels the world participating in tattoo conventions. She describes the tattoo community as similar to other artist communities – but a bit more open and vibrant. Jakob, who’s been tattooing for 10 years, began as a traditional artist and fell into tattooing by chance.  An employer discovered her potential while she was working as a body piercer and asked her to start as an apprentice. Jakob has been tattooing ever since.

Virginia has a unique history in relation to tattooing, as Chuck Eldridge explained in a seminar on the history of the practice in the Commonwealth.  Norfolk and the Virginia Beach area, prior to the 1950’s, were internationally acclaimed in the tattoo world.  Norfolk served as a seaport hub, which in turn brought in clientele from all over the world.

Between 1930 and 1950, internationally famed tattoo artists such as Joe Butler, Charlie Barr, R.C. Connelly, and Cap Coleman all operated off the Virginia coast. Barr is referred to as the “pioneer of modern machine work” in the tattoo community.

Norfolk was infamous for its tattoo parlors until the 1950’s. E. Main St. was home to a dozen parlors, taverns and burlesque clubs catering to seamen.  At one point, tattooing was banned up and down the Virginia coast. Proponents of the ban argued that the tattoo culture was “vulgar” and attracted miscreants.

Virginia Beach lifted its tattoo ban in 2001. Norfolk’s ban lasted 56 years and was finally repealed in 2006. Suffolk followed suit in 2008, becoming the last Virginian city to repeal the ‘50’s era ban.

Today, tattoos adorn a much wider section of the population, becoming more integrated and accepted into modern culture. Tattoo artists, likewise, are becoming more accepted as craftsmen.

Along with tattooing, Roanoke convention-goers enjoyed local rock bands and performances by belly dancing troupes, Roanoke’s Cookies and Anarchy and Floyd’s Gyroscopic. “Magician” Nelson Oliver stomped barefoot over a pile of broken glass and his assistant stood on his head while face down in glass shards.

The event was organized by Joe Hagerty- owner of Alex’s New Tattoo (3121 Franklin Rd). Local sponsors sold clothes and regalia and showcased historical tattoo equipment.

(Editor’s note: Hollins alumna Irene Wolf will intern for a National Public Radio show in Washington, DC this summer)