HAPPY WANDERER: Colorful Fort Bragg


HILLS NEWSPAPERS  May 8, 2009

IF A PICTURE IS WORTH a thousand words, then this one left me PICT0003speechless. Two fleshy cheeks sporting spiral tattoos, framed by the fringe around two large holes cut in the seat of someone’s pants. We’re talking lower cheeks, here.

Madame Chinchilla was quick to point out that this was one of the more eclectic photographs in her World Famous Triangle Tattoo Studio and Museum in Fort Bragg. But there were thousands of examples of ink art on ankles and arms, chests and breasts and extremities too fragile to mention in the same sentence with needles.

Chinchilla, a self-described “nice Jewish girl,” runs this unusual enterprise PICT0002in the heart of downtown Fort Bragg, in one of the town’s original Victorian buildings. It’s one of the world’s only museums dedicated to the history of tattooing.

From the tribal art of New Zealand’s Maori (known for their facial markings) to patriotic and carnival tattoos, the walls are lined with photographs and artifacts celebrating this ancient art form.

Chinchilla, herself, has tattoos down both arms and outlining her neck in a V-shape that flirts with her bosoms. What’s under her colorful clothing, I can only guess. But she made it clear that her hands and face are off limits to ink art. The point is, after all, not to attract attention — but to satisfy a basic primal urge. “We become different in our own skins,” she writes on her Web site

triangletattoo.com. “We are empowered “… individual. We become walking, talking, pulsing, indelible art statements, and this requires a certain self confidence.”I guess I don’t have what it takes. While Chinchilla insists they’ve gone mainstream, I can’t get past the idea of an electric needle piercing my skin for an hour — or more.

The day of my visit, a man got three tats. He was a military guy, so I’m surePICT0005 he’d been through worse pain than the “bee stings” and “skin abrasions” you reportedly feel when you’re getting tattooed. Still, I saw blood on his arm.

Yet pain may be part of the pleasure. A tattoo says you’re tough, and even petite women get tattoos these days. So do celebrities, but I don’t consider them normal.

And Chinchilla? She got her first tattoo on her wrist; a little heart that looks more like an ink blotch today. But something about it got under her skin — literally — and transformed her.

“We are no longer just Tom or Jane,” she reveals. “We are the person with the butterfly on our shoulder or the man with a tiger on his bicep.”

It’s compulsive, she admits, and perhaps a little addictive.

“I look at my skin, where I don’t have tattoos,” she says, “and I think about what I could put there.”

The Triangle Tattoo Studio & Museum is located at 356-B North Main St., in the heart of Fort Bragg.

It’s one of dozens of sights in this historic logging town, which boasts towering redwoods, quiet coastal beaches, cozy B&B’s (there’s a wonderful inn called The Atrium on North Main) and eclectic dining (like the PICT0001venerable eatery aptly named The Restaurant). They even have a beach covered in colorful sea glass.

For more information, contact the Mendocino Coast Chamber of Commerce at www.mendocoast.com. Read more about Fort Bragg and see my photos at www.ginnyprior.com.

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