Since sailors first discovered the art of tattooing in Polynesia in the 18th century they have been covering their bodies with images of racing ships, anchors, and loved ones left behind. Consequently, tattoos have come to symbolize a renegade spirit or a certain waywardness because of their association with sailors.In celebration of this varied heritage, The Mariners Museum in Newport News, Va., is presenting an exhibit of tattoo art in the coming months. Skin Deep, The Art of the Tattoo, will run from October 24 to March 30, 1999. The exhibit includes hundreds of examples of "flash art," templates used by tattooists to display to prospective clients.
Although most ancient cultures performed some kind of tattooing, it was these island populations of the South Pacific that are apparently responsible for the tattoo becoming a popular form of expression in the modern age.
For those sailors unadorned with body art, there is still a chance to be considered a real salty dog: The Mariner’s Museum is offering temporary tattoos of anchors and mermaids.