Boulder Tattoo Project finishes up first phase

Chelsea Pohl is tattooed by her husband, Vincent Bachert
Photo by David Accomazzo

At Claw and Talon Tattoo in Boulder, Boulder County resident Joel sits in the waiting room, flanked by colorful posters as the pounding riffs of stoner-metal legends Kyuss fill the room.

He’s there to participate in the Boulder Tattoo Project, the brainchild of Chelsea Pohl, who owns the parlor with her husband, Vincent Bachert. (Pohl modeled the Boulder project after the Lexington Tattoo Project in Kentucky, created by Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova.) The project has enlisted more than 200 Boulderites to tattoo themselves with parts of a poem about the city, written by famed local poet Anne Waldman. Joel is part of the final wave of people to get tattooed, marking the end of the first step of the project.

He had never received a tattoo before he came across the project. After hearing about the project through friends, Joel, a poet himself, thought it might be time to get his first.

“The project sounded pretty cool, and I had a bunch of friends and coworkers doing it,” he says. “It seemed like a good reason to get involved. It would be part of a bigger project.”

His tattoo comes from the 11th stanza of the poem: “tip the scales and you go down, Libra, stay / wise, proactive, run the marathon, save the planet.”

It was quite easy for him to select his phrase, he says. A marathon runner currently sidelined by injuries, he chose the phrase “run the marathon” to get emblazoned onto the front of his right thigh.

After the September floods, Pohl says interest in the project spiked, and all the remaining tattoo slots filled extremely quickly. When combined, the tattoos — just a few words each, surrounded by stars, all done in black ink — form a secret composite image, to be revealed at an event sometime in fall spring 2014.

Joel sits on the padded tattoo table and rolls up his grey pant leg, clearing the way for Bachert to apply a purple-inked “transfer stencil” that will serve as the guide for the tattoo. Bachert is fresh off a marathon weekend session in which he tattooed more than 70 participants, and he remarks, “I’m starting to dream stars at this point.” He picks up his tattoo machine and turns it on, applying the needle to Joel’s skin.

Pohl has closely tracked demographics about the project. Out of 205 respondents, 76 percent are women. Just 14 percent of project participants were getting their first tattoo, and 54 percent are under the age of 30. Almost 90 percent have some college education or have completed college degrees, and racially, the participants closely mirror census data from the city of Boulder as a whole. Most involved say a love of Boulder motivated them to donate their skin to the project.

After Joel leaves, Bachert has one more tattoo — his wife’s. Pohl already has three or four tattoos, all done by Bachert, and they go back and forth about the design for a minute and make some last-minute tweaks. She lies on the table and extends her left arm and closes her eyes. In just a few minutes, the job is done. She holds up her arm in front of the mirror and smiles. It’s a fitting selection, given all that work she’s done to bring people in the community together, and all the moving stories participants have shared over the past few weeks.

“Inspiring,” the tattoo reads.

Correction: Information has been added about the origins of the Boulder Tattoo Project. Boulder Weekly originally received incorrect information about the date of the event mentioned, and that has also been corrected.