This year, the Honors Program is reaching a new level of groundbreaking with the college’s first ever tattoo-based class. Course instructor Fr. James Neilson spoke to us about the aptly named “Tattorial,” a variation on the Honors specific “tutorials” that allow small groups of students to engage in diverse content in a unique classroom setting. He explained that the tutorial idea sprung from a conversation with Honors Office Coordinator, Stacey Wanta: “It was really Stacey’s idea as we were speaking about a tattoo exhibition I’m co-curating with SNC art professor, Brian Pirman,” Neilson said. “Stacey thought a tutorial taught in tandem with the exhibition would be of interest to our honors students, and I agreed!”
This exhibition, titled, “The Needle Has Moved,” is a 50-year retrospective showcase of Rick Harnowski. Rick, originally from Poland, has been an artist since he could hold a pencil and a tattoo artist in the Green Bay area since the age of 16. In addition to being the go-to tattoo artist for a large portion of the Green Bay Packers team, Rick is known as a leading figure in both local and national efforts toward greater safety and accountability within the tattoo industry. According to Neilson, Rick is also special in the way that he welcomes “a wider range of clients who find personal and collective meaning and beauty in the art of tattoos.”
The 18 honors students enrolled in this course are engaged in both learning and sharing insights into the history and art of tattoos, as well as the designs, methods, and applications of ink. “I’ve always been interested in tattoos” said Sarah Rolfs, Class of 2020, “It’s especially interesting for people our age living in the time of transition between tattoos being forbidden and tattoos being cool.” Although the content here is undoubtedly more engaging than your typical lecture-based class, students are also keen on the way Fr. Neilson enhances the tutorial experience. “Fr. Neilson’s enthusiasm about the subject of tattoos is both admirable and contagious; the way he finds meaning in every part of the tattoo -- be it what the tattoo is made of, its artist, or its design -- he finds wonder in all of it” shared Noah Buhle, Class of 2020.
Sarah, when asked about the topic, shared that she is most intrigued by how the permanence of tattoos translates into a person’s character: “It’s interesting to question why something can mean so much to someone, they decide to have it permanently marked on their body. Tattooing is such a delicate and high-stakes art, and the reasoning (or lack thereof) behind a tattoo can say a lot about a person.” In addition to the content, Noah appreciates the laid-back nature of the Tattorial classroom experience. “The atmosphere is very relaxed,” he noted. Noah describes it as “more of a conversation amongst friends than a gathering of teacher and students.”
Both Sarah and Noah added that this class has changed how they view tattoos and the prospect of getting one. “Every time I leave Fr. Neilson’s class, I want to get a tattoo more and more” said Sarah, “I wouldn’t be surprised if one of these days I went and got a spontaneous one after lecture.” Noah, in a similar boat, said, “I’ve also changed perspectives on tattoos and am much more willing to get one myself after even just this short time with Father Neilson.”
In addition to the course content and discussions, students are looking forward to the unique opportunity of tattooing prosthetic skin. With the help of the professionals -- Rick and his son, a 2006 SNC grad who studied graphic design and has since taken to the family trade -- tattooing in real time in the gallery. These experiences will give them the real life knowledge of handling and using tattoo equipment while under the supervision of some of the best the field has to offer. Sarah is especially excited for this aspect and says that “to understand the perspective of the artist even a little bit more can lead to a new appreciation of the craft -- something especially relevant in tattooing.”
“I’ve noticed a significant rise in the number of students, staff, and faculty who have ink at SNC,” Fr. Neilson added, hoping that following this course students will create and analyze a survey to uncover statistics about who on campus has tattoos. “I sense there's great interest within our community about the art and meaning of tattoos, and believe that by way of the exhibition and Thursday evening programming in the Bush Art Center galleries, our students will have access to a privileged view of an artform that has captured the imagination of world culture today.”
We invite you to take part in this unique experience by visiting the exhibit at the Bush Art Center between October 8 and November 2nd, and attending the reception on Thursday, October 11 from 5-7pm.