For at least a decade now, Arkansans — both native-born and transplants — have been choosing to mark their bodies with representations of the Natural State. Razorback tattoos have long been popular, but these Arkansas tattoos are more topographical, a marker of geography and a symbol of home. They range from simple outlines with a star or heart marking a hometown to ornate designs involving a birdhouse, a cotton plant or an area code.
For Cheyenne Matthews, co-host of the "Shoog Radio" show on 88.3 FM KABF, it's the state Capitol, surrounded by stylized clouds and the word "Arkansas" inside a ribbon at the building's base. The design, which graces her forearm, is part of a series of images created by Caleb Pritchett of Electric Heart Tattoos in Little Rock to help raise money for the show. "Everything we play and do is Arkansas-based," Matthews said. "It's a grassroots movement towards Arkansas stuff in general, events and music."
Peeking out from under bartender/waiter James Watt's T-shirt is a large red outline of the state. "I had left my car at Vino's, which is next door to Seventh Street Tattoo, and my friend gave me a ride back there," he said, laughing. "When we pulled up in the parking lot he said, 'If you go get a tattoo right now I'll pay for it.'" Having been raised in Arkansas and having so many friends here he decided "Arkansas would be a good thing to get that I would never regret." It was his second tattoo; he has three now. The other two are the words "music," and "love."
Club promoter Duane "Magic tha Legend" Wilson has large "501" emblazoned across his wrist. He got the tattoo while living in Los Angeles several years ago. "I used to see a lot of people have their area code tattooed on their arm and I got my own. Let them know where I'm from," he said. Wilson wanted a simple design, an indisputable marker of home that would stand out. He's in his 30s and has been seeing Little Rock and Arkansas tattoos for decades, including neighborhood and street-specific designs like Twelfth Street, for example.
Cody Agee, aka C-Boddy, is a 21-year-old rapper and beat producer. He rolled up his right sleeve to reveal two Arkansas tattoos: the official Little Rock city logo on his inner forearm and a graffiti-style "ARK" on his bicep. He traveled the country last year and loved the opportunity to explain the LR on his arm and represent his hometown. He spoke of the sense of community. "Everybody knows everybody, so I look at everybody as family and everybody is really open-armed, toward me anyway. It's a big party when everybody gets together."
State tattoos aren't unique to Arkansas, of course. But it helps if the cartographical borders of your home are geometrically appealing. State outline tattoos probably aren't as common in, say, Wyoming, Colorado or the Dakotas. For those whose hearts reside in multiple states or make their home in border areas, state tattoos merge multiple locales into one design — for example, an Arkansas flag in a Texas outline, or dotted lines connecting Arkansas to Korea.
These days, Arkansas tattoos are becoming more personalized, a collaborative design between the tattoo artist and the client. For bartender Anna Brankin, it's a blue Converse shoe inside the state outline, a symbol of being "carefree," she said. A long trail of apple blossoms — the state flower — graces her right shoulder. For nuclear consultant Rick Millard (and a few others who share the design), it's the state outline broken up into the four bars making up the symbol for Black Flag, a favorite '80s hardcore band. Scott Koskoski, who works as a barista, merged the state outline with the Wu-Tang Clan's logo, the words "Wu Tang Sooie" etched in the center.