Stories of tattoos more than skin deep

STEPHEN PULLINGER Andy Cheeseman had no hesitation about proclaiming his love for Annette by having a tattoo of her name on his arm. But the decision taken as a 17-year-old appeared somewhat rash when his sweetheart's parents banned her from seeing him after he got caught up in a bar room brawl on the very night the tattoo was done.

STEPHEN PULLINGER

Andy Cheeseman had no hesitation about proclaiming his love for Annette by having a tattoo of her name on his arm.

But the decision taken as a 17-year-old appeared somewhat rash when his sweetheart's parents banned her from seeing him after he got caught up in a bar room brawl on the very night the tattoo was done.

After more than two decades and two broken marriages the couple got back together again after a chance reunion through Friends Reunited - and Annette was finally able to see the tattoo for the first time.

The story of Andy's tattoo is among many recounted in the Skin Deep exhibition which arrives at Yarmouth's Time and Tide museum in March on tour from the National Maritime Museum.

Curator Samantha Johns received nearly 50 replies after appealing in the EDP for stories related to local people's tattoos.

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She said: "The exhibition traces the history of tattooing, starting from the 18th century when the voyages of Capt James Cook through the Pacific islands first brought Europeans into close contact with the islanders and their customs, including tattooing.

"I wanted to add a local angle with photographs of people from our area showing their tattoos and explaining the stories surrounding them."

One of the people with whom the appeal in the EDP brought her into contact was John Mitchell, 59, from Yarmouth, whose father Jimmy, uncle George, and grandfather, also Jimmy, were all well-known local tattooists.

Mr Mitchell, who sports one of his father's tattoos, recalled: "My father's dead but my uncle still works as a tattooist in the summer on Britannia Pier.

"He's in his 80s now and must be the oldest working tattooist in the country."

One of the photographs he has presented to the exhibition shows his grandfather tattooing a soldier in South Denes, Yarmouth, shortly before he was shipped out to the Battle of the Somme during the first world war.

Mr Mitchell has a collection of his father's tattoo patterns, many of them with maritime themes such as mermaids, anchors and ships.

Ms Johns said: "Yarmouth has strong associations with tattoos because sailors always traditionally had them done when they went to sea.

"One ex-sailor, Jack Stroud, told us how he had his tattoos done in Canada and Melbourne, and the Canadian tattooist was able to recognise the work of the Australian artist thousands of miles away."

Mr Mitchell confirmed he was able to identify the thousands of tattoos done by his family around East Anglia.

Other local people to feature in the exhibition will include Katie James who has tattoos of the names of her brother Daniel and sisters Kelly and Lucy in their own handwriting, and offshore worker Ian Massi who has typical seamen's tattoos of swallows and eyes representing port and starboard.

The exhibition, the last in a series of temporary displays funded by Objective 2 funding, will reflect the diversity of tattooing over two centuries and highlight its growth as a statement of fashion and identity in today's society.