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Thursday, June 5, 2003 02:20 pm

Skin deep

Andy Daugherty of Blue Magic Tattoos colors Kevin Vanderhyden’s back.

Last weekend the first Springfield Tattoo Expo took place at the Hilton Hotel. Two dozen tattoo artists from Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois showed up for the three-day event.

I already have eight tattoos, including one of a vampire bite on my neck, another of a coffee cup on my left shoulder, and a tattoo of a butterfly on my right calf. The butterfly was done by "Permanent" Mark Lehmann, who works at Springfield's Dreamtime Tattoos with T "Solo" Haynes.

Haynes has been doing tattoos professionally for more than 25 years. When he was just 14, he used a homemade gun to tattoo other kids in his neighborhood, obviously upsetting their parents. A few years later, while working as a motorcycle mechanic, he noticed that all his customers wanted tattoos. So in 1976 he bought some genuine equipment and found his true calling. He opened his first shop in Pekin in 1981; later he owned two more businesses in Bloomington. After moving to St. Louis, he sold his designs, or "flashes," to other shops through the mail and, eventually, the Internet. He then came across a shop here that needed an artist. That's how he met Lehmann.

Lehmann taught himself the art of tattooing at the age of 16, and he later honed his craft as an apprentice in a small shop. He says a lot has changed in the last ten years: not only have tattoos become socially acceptable--they're almost wholesome.

He recalls one woman who had owned a pet dachshund for 13 years. When the dog passed away, she asked him to give her a tattoo of the pet's portrait. He captured the dog's spirit so well she broke down in tears of joy.

Even in a fairly conservative town like Springfield, I know few young people who don't have at least one tattoo. Folks from all walks of life are now getting them. In the not-too-distant future, expect to see the average Joe with a shoulder-to-wrist tattooed sleeve.

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