Under their skin

by Lindsay Craven

Under their skin

CW Eldridge has acquired so many tattoos over the past 44 years that he has stopped counting them and instead tells people 75 percent of his body is covered. Eldridge owns the Tattoo Archive, located on 4 th Street in downtown Winston- Salem. This unique location blends tattoo history, merchandise and a tattoo studio into one colorful attraction. Eldridge runs the Tattoo Archive with his wife Harriet Cohen, who is his equal in tattoo coverage. The two opened the museum/shop in November 2007 after running a shop in Berkley, Calif. But Eldridge grew up in nearby Elkin and personally felt that Winston-Salem was the nicest city in the state. Cohen found the listing for their 4 th Street location while searching real estate ads at 2 a.m. and quickly set the ball rolling to make it the home of their new shop. The shop is decorated in tattoo memorabilia that Eldridge has collected over the past 35 years. He shops in antique stores around the nation to find original artwork by those he admires most. “We spend more time here than anybody else so we chose to decorate in things that we find beautiful and interesting,” Eldridge said. The couple says that they make sure to put the historical items at the front of the store because the historical value of tattooing is the most important thing to them. Eldridge is also a tattoo artist and received his first tattoo while in the Navy in 1965. Several years — and tattoos — later, Eldridge’s tattoo artist offered to teach him and so he took on an apprenticeship. He ventured out on his own in the 1970s in San Francisco and now continues to put his signature touch on Winston-Salem natives. About five people walk in within an hour, inquiring about new tattoos or ways to build upon existing artwork. Eldridge admires each piece and gives his honest and sincere opinion as an artist. Eldridge says that there is no type of tattoo that he loves or hates. He only refuses to do offensive tattoos. “It’s not our job to be an art critic and as soon as you decide you don’t want to do a certain type of tattoo, that will be what every person that walks through that door wants, it’s just Murphy’s Law,” he said. His tattoos can cost customers anywhere from $100 to $200 on average. He specializes in custom tattoos, meaning a customer can bring in three different pieces of artwork and Eldridge works with them to blend and create the tattoo they envision while also adding a few personal touches. Eldridge has found that every tattoo has a story to it. Some personal favorites for the couple included a 72-year-old woman who came in for her first tattoo and then came back again a year later to get her second on her birthday. One man had a tooth tattooed with Yiddish writing beneath it. He has also done tattoos for women who have had mastectomies and worked on a back piece for two years. Eldridge says that not everyone that comes into Tattoo Archive is looking to be tattooed. Some people just are just interested in tattoos and want to learn more about them. They call these people tattoo curious. The couple says they never pressure anyone into getting tattooed but they always jump at the opportunity to answer any question their customers may have. Business has picked up for the Tattoo Archive thanks to a special that aired on the History Channel. The special about tattooing premiered last February and a portion of the show featured the store. Eldridge and Cohen said several customers continue to come in after catching re-runs of the show and want to know more about them. Aside from tattooing and history the Tattoo Archive also houses a large collection of items for purchase. The couple like to call the store a four-ring circus of tattooing, each ring made up of tattooing, the museum, a gift store and a bookstore. Cohen doesn’t tattoo but she does act as the book mistress for the store. The bookstore consists of tattoo literature old and new. She caters to a wide array of customers varying from other tattoo artists in need of inspiration for their customers to families looking for children’s books about tattoos. page 64

The “East Meets West” exhibit illustrates the Japanese influence on American tattooing. ( photo by Lindsay Craven)