Business

Tattoos are forever: now you can preserve them after you die

If you don't want your tattoos to die with you, a new organization will preserve them, skin and all. After you're gone, family can frame them and always have a piece of you to treasure.

National Association for the Preservation of Skin Art helps bequeath tattoos just like other property

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      If you don't want your tattoos to die with you, a new association will preserve them, skin and all. After you're gone, family can frame them and always have a piece of you to treasure.

      "Bequeath your tattoo just like a house, wedding ring, or any other cherished possession, so that your loved ones can experience your legacy," explains the National Association for the Preservation of Skin Art (NAPSA) in a promotional video.
      Charles Hamm, 60 from Cleveland, Ohio founded NAPSA, an organization that preserves tattoos. All Hamm's tattoos have been promised to family members after he passes. (NAPSA)

      Not everyone is embracing the idea; some find the concept too grisly and far-fetched to grasp. But NAPSA founder Charles Hamm believes gifted tattoo artists are crafting meaningful, personalized works of art these days that deserve to be immortalized.

      Much of his upper body is covered in about $40,000 worth of intricate tattoos that all hold meaning for Hamm who lives in Cleveland, Ohio. His grandson's love of lizards inspired the ones on his arms and the gorilla on his chest bears his wife's name, Penny. "That gorilla is guarding her," he says.

      Death-defying tattoos

      A successful businessman, Hamm was once a partner with the accounting firm KPMG, and now runs insurance companies. The 60-year-old recently lamented to a group of business associates that when he dies, his tattoos, "this beautiful artwork is going to be gone."

      He explains, "One guy jokingly said, you know what, when you die, I'll have somebody come and cut them off for you."

      It was no joke to Hamm who was inspired to investigate further. He gathered a group of specialists, including a master embalmer, a doctor, and tattoo artists, to find a way to preserve skin art.

      The group came up with a proprietary formula involving a series of non-toxic chemicals baths.

      Hamm didn't want to risk wrecking a client's real tattoo so he became the first test case. He had recently lost 100 pounds and had loose skin around his waist. So he got two small tattoos on the area, one stating his former workplace, "KPMG" and a classic one with the word, "MOM."

      He then had a doctor remove them from his body. "He handed me two little pill bottles with tattoos in them," says Hamm.

      The formula proved successful and NAPSA was born. For a $115 US initial fee and yearly dues of $60 US, members can name a beneficiary who receives a designated tattoo on their passing. More than one tattoo will cost extra. Members are welcome across North America.

      This is how it works: the beneficiary must notify NAPSA within 18 hours after the person dies. The organization then sends a kit to the deceased person's funeral home so it can remove the tattoo and ship it to NAPSA.

      NAPSA then treats the tattoo and sends it, packaged in an encasing, to the beneficiary, along with a certificate.

      Keep it in the family

      All Hamm's tattoos have been designated to family members including the lizards for his grandson and the gorilla for his wife.

      "My tattoos from my perspective are an expression of who I am and they show the love that I have for the people in my life," he says. "I think it's important those things live on."

      Shelly Krajny from Cleveland recently joined NAPSA so she could pass on her treasured tattoo. She started it four years ago with a Blue Heron to mark her recovery from a 12-year battle with an eating disorder.

      "I picked [it] because it does symbolize strength and patience and determination," she says.

      The 32-year-old college instructor then kept building on the tattoo, adding another heron, flowers, trees, even the moon. "It kind of just progressed from this one amazing bird into this entire kind of work of art," she says.

      Krajny was thrilled when she learned she could preserve her tattoo. "After the person dies, the art will be gone and now it doesn't have to be," she says. "It's something that can be preserved forever. I think that's amazing."

      Krajny hasn't yet decided who will get her tattoo. She comes from a traditional family and says some relatives are still grappling with the concept.

      "They appreciate the art, but none of them have tattoos so it's hard for them to wrap their brains around the whole [preserving] process."

      My tattoos die with me

      Ben Rayner is also still trying to wrap his head around the process, and he sports about 20 tattoos. "It's sort of like one step away from having yourself stuffed and mounted," says the Toronto music critic.

      Rayner's tattoos — all with an alien theme — are meaningful to him. "I'm a UFO nut," he says.  But he feels no need to pass them on to loved ones after he dies.

      "They're something for me," he says. "So I don't know why I would want to foist them on anyone else and kind of creep them out after I was dead, like here's a piece of me."

      Hamm acknowledges that the idea of preserving body art can be off-putting for many. He admits membership has been slow to start.

      He claims, however, once people see the end product of a tattoo, preserved and nicely framed, they start embracing the process.

      "I think their first vision is a piece of skin lying on a table and that's not what this looks like at the end of the day."

      About the Author

      Sophia Harris

      Business reporter

      Sophia Harris has worked as a CBC video journalist across the country, covering everything from the start of the annual lobster fishery in Yarmouth, N.S., to farming in Saskatchewan. She now has found a good home at the business unit in Toronto. Contact: sophia.harris@cbc.ca

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