Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Do You Have a Lighthouse Tattoo?

Tattooing is a very old practice. Sailors of centuries ago learned it from South Pacific Islanders and readily adopted the symbolism of it for their own. Nautical tattoos gave seamen a sense of camaraderie but also provided protection, either through superstition or in the real sense. An anchor symbolized a sailor's connection to shore; an albatross or crucifix might protect a seaman from drowning. (In the age of sail few sailors knew how to swim!) Johnny Depp's "Jack Sparrow" character in the popular Pirates of the Caribbean films gave us a laugh with eyes tattooed on his eyelids, but there's some sense to that practice. A sailor could grab forty winks and no one would know he was sleeping, especially the officers on the ship. Tattoos also offered reminders of home--the name of girlfriend for example or a sailor's hometown--and attested to his personality, line of work, and the risks associated with going to sea. Sea monsters, King Neptune, mermaids, anchors, ships--all were common symbols in nautical body art.

Tattooing has made a big comeback in recent years, and much for the same reason as in the days of sail. I've met a number of people sporting lighthouse tattoos. (I'm hesitant to get one myself: I'd have trouble deciding which lighthouse I should wear. The permanence of it is concerning too, and I dread the thought of what it would look like when I'm 95!) Usually, people with lighthouse tattoos tell me the design is a favorite lighthouse or symbolizes a virtue, such as strength or salvation or duty, or pays tribute to someone. Sometimes, they choose a lighthouse simply for its beauty. Some of the designs are stunning.  Type "lighthouse tattoo" into any search engine or on Pinterest, and you'll get many examples. Here's a folio of a few lighthouse tattoos--

First up is my friend and fellow author, Chris Mills of Ketch Harbour, Nova Scotia, with his upper arm lighthouse tattoo. If anyone deserves such a badge of honor, it's Chris. he's a former British Columbia lighthouse keeper who served on some really remote stations. Today he works for the Canadian Coast Guard servicing automated lighthouses. Gannet Rock Lighthouse is his choice. Last time he visited with me he flexed his biceps and triceps: "Stormy seas!"

 The design below is popular, the striped lighthouse. Notice the beams falling like waterfalls from the lantern. I like the message, "So shine a light." We should all shine a light, yes?

Raging seas speak volumes about struggles and overcoming adversity. Check out the two inundated towers below.

Next down the list is a screwpile lighthouse of the Chesapeake Bay variety. Possibly this is a favorite place to go or conjures wonderful childhood memories for the wearer.It certainly would be a conversation piece, since this style of lighthouse is not common.

This one below looks very much like North Head Lighthouse on the southwest coast of Washington. Kudos to the artist for a good likeness!

Why not two upper arm scenes? (above) Twin lights perhaps?

Below is surely a rendering of Cape Hatteras, a tribute to Sylvia, lucky girl.

This looks like Nauset Beach Light on Cape Cod. Lots of ink in this one!

...and below is a resemblance to Cape Neddick "Nubble" Lighthouse in Maine, complete with its signature red oil-house. The artist chose elements of the station, just the tower and oil-house, the island the sea.

Spilit Rock Lighthouse in Minnesota is below. No water laps at the base of the real Split Rock Light, though, as it sits high above Lake Superior on a rock outcropping. Yet, some elements were accurately preserved, like the blanking panels on the lantern to direct the light in a specific direction.

There are temporary lighthouse tattoos as well, and body painting designs. A few of the above examples may fall into those categories. Artists are so good it's hard to tell!

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