Some people get inked for fun, while for others it holds immense significance. Chris Wenzel, whose love affair with tattoos began when he was only nine years old, belonged to the latter group. A respected tattoo artist, who owned Electric Underground Tattoos Inc, a studio in Saskatoon, Canada, it was one of Wenzel’s last wishes to have his inked body parts preserved after his death.
According to a report in BBC, Wenzel died of heart failure last October after struggling with ulcerative colitis for years, leaving his wife and their five sons behind. All he wanted in his final weeks was to have his tattoos preserved as he was always fascinated by preserved bodies and other similar artefacts he had come across on museum visits. So his wife Cheryl made sure that the tattoo artist’s last wish was fulfilled.
“He loved seeing the ink on people’s skin, fell in love with it,” his wife Cheryl told BBC. “He said why would I want to have all these hours of tattoo work put into my body for me to be buried with them?” His last wish made her contact Save My Ink Forever, a family-run business based in Cleveland, Ohio that works with funeral homes to preserve tattoos of deceased people as a memorial for their loved ones. The company is owned by Kyle Sherwood and his father.
The father-son duo started the company after researching and studying trends that showed around 45 million Americans got themselves inked, so it was surely a growing market. They also realised how there was a shift towards more customised funerals and memorials. Considering these two market trends, they developed a technique that allowed them to preserve the excised skin art.
With the permission of the family, the Sherwoods perform a surgical operation to remove the tattoo, after which is it sent to a laboratory for preservation before it is mounted and framed behind the UV-protective glass. The process takes about three months.
However, it wasn’t easy in Wenzel’s case as he wanted two full sleeve tattoos including his top hands, throat, chest piece, his full back piece, two thigh pieces and calf piece preserved. “You have the people that don’t like it – the majority of those people don’t have tattoos, the majority of those people couldn’t understand the meaning that a tattoo can have”, BBC quotes Kyle Sherwood.
Cheryl has displayed her late husband’s body art at tattoo conventions in Saskatoon and Vancouver and plans to do the same at a convention in St John’s, Newfoundland this summer. She believes the artwork will remind people that life continues even after death as those left behind never forget the loved ones they lost. “I see it as beautiful art. To me, it was like bringing my husband back. I get to see him every day,” she told BBC.