Tattooing practices date back thousands of years and have been passed down for centuries, continuing to evolve with changes in culture and technology. The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum’s new exhibition, Tattooing: Religion, Reality and Regret, explores the body adornment practices from ancient times to present, focusing on ancient tribal tattooing practices and on what tattooing means to people today.
Why do people get tattoos?
The answer varies by person and culture, but for many, a tattoo is a lasting and meaningful ritual meant to represent a belief or commemorate an important event in life.
For National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum guard Greyson Tryon, tattoos are a way of memorializing and remembering life’s events.
“My philosophy on tattoos has been that they don’t all need to have super deep meanings, but I view it as kind of like a skin scrapbook,” Greyson said. “That way, hopefully, when I’m old and grey I can look back and say, ‘Oh yeah, that’s where I was when I was 22, that’s where I was when I was 30.”
Greyson’s favorite part of the new Tattooing: Religion, Reality and Regret exhibition are the tattooing tools. Images of instruments from hammers to needles hang in the gallery, many of which date back centuries, to provide a glimpse at the history of tattooing practices. The images of ancient tattooing hammers and ink-stained needles are contrasted by the modern tattooing bed and implements that are also on display at the Museum – which is now an officially licensed tattoo parlor.
He feels connected to tattooing and to the histories the exhibition presents, not only because of his personal love for tattooing, but also because of his Assiniboine-Sioux heritage.
“It’s telling my story and how I’ve gotten to where I am,” he said of his tattoos and his desire to memorialize the events of his life, tying it to the ancient practices of tattooing displayed at the Museum and the desire people had to show their beliefs, affiliations and experiences.
He has noticed that modern tattooing is becoming more widely accepted and believes tattoos will soon become a normal fixture in the workplace.
Greyson currently has 11 tattoos and plans to get more. As a lover of music and a musician, some of Greyson’s tattoos celebrate work in the music industry.
His most recent tattoo keeps with the idea of “skin scrapbook” and celebrates his two years working at the Tower Theater.
“To be able to look back and remember this time in my life with the Tower, I wanted to commemorate (it), and I think the marque is such a great way to do it,” he said. “I love the iconic tower marque.”
Greyson also has an “old school” AM/FM radio dial roughly set to the station he used to work at. He considers the station his foot in the door with the music industry.
As the Museum continues to explore the histories, practices and reasons behind “getting inked,” they will continue to host local tattoo artists for live demonstrations and in-depth discussions of the practice. To view a live tattoo demonstration or an artist spotlight at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, visit the events page.
Come explore Tattooing: Religion, Reality and Regret now through May 8, 2022.
And share your tattoo stories, inspiration or regrets with us on social media. We can make history together.