by Steve Desroches
Eighteenth-century naturalist Joseph Banks traveled throughout the Pacific with Captain Cook aboard the HMS Endeavor noticing the body modification in Samoa called “tatau.”
“I shall now mention the way they mark themselves indelibly, each of them so marked by their humor or disposition,” wrote Banks in his journal.
When Cook returned to Europe in 1771 after his first voyage to Tahiti and New Zealand, he introduced the word “tattoo” to the Western world. By then the cultural practice of tattooing had spread throughout Polynesia into Asia up to Japan and across to certain tribal groups in Africa and in parts of South America. And since that time, tattoo has gone from being associated with certain tribal religions and cultures to a symbol of counter-cultural defiance and deviance, to a mainstream form of body art now (so much so that in 2011 Mattel released a tattooed Barbie doll).
Several states in the Northeast, including Massachusetts, had banned tattoos in the early 1960s in response to a hepatitis outbreak (even though there was no proof that tattoo parlors were the source of the epidemic.) That law remained on the books until 2000 when it was declared unconstitutional.
Almost immediately thereafter, tattoo shops popped up in Provincetown, where the town’s seafaring and fringe heritage made tattoos de rigeur. Part of this artistic movement in Provincetown is Coastline Tattoo, which is celebrating its fifth anniversary this week with a party on Sunday, June 16.
“It’s a way to give back to the community,” says owner Kris Smith. “It’s going to be a good time; to have some fun before summer starts.”
Throughout the day Coastline Tattoo will offer $20 off of selected tattoos, Lucky Dog will provide food from 5 to 7 p.m., and the Underground will offer drinks and host a celebration later that night.
Over the past five years Smith and his crew of tattoo artists have worked on over 10,000 people, he estimates. Smith, who has been tattooing since 1991, has worked in the Czech Republic (PES Tattoo – Prague), New Orleans (Aart Accent), and Philadelphia (Philadelphia Eddie’s Chinatown). He is joined by artist Joy Lepposh and guest artists Scott Bruns and Alice White.
“We focus on custom, one-of-a-kind designs,” says Smith. “We always try to give someone a unique piece of work.”
Coastline Tattoo is located at 290a Commercial St. (behind Puzzle Me This, down the alley). Their anniversary party will take place Sunday, June 16 from 5pm on. For more information call 508.487.2012 or visit