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Tattoo Preservation After Death: The Macabre Art

Updated on January 23, 2018
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Jennifer Branton is a tattoo enthusiast always looking to add to her body art. She writes mostly about video games, books, and pop culture.

My Pelt On Your Wall

Looking for a unique memento of your loved one? I recently came across a Reddit post about a service that would preserve a dead person's tattoos and mount and frame the decorated skin for family and friends. I thought there was no way that this could be an actual thing, but a couple Google searches later, I came across several companies that do exactly that, preserving the artwork that adorns the bodies of the deceased.

As a tattooed person myself, the artworks I wear on my skin are sentimental pieces that tell the story of who I am. They speak about my journey through life and events that have shaped me. I could see why family members would associate these images with who I am. Still, though, rather than framing my skin like an animal they had hunted, would a loved one not want an artist to DRAW some of my tattoos on canvas if they were looking for sentimental art?

Still, due to the amount of companies performing this service, there's clearly a demand. So I delved a little deeper into the subject.


Several companies online offer to preserve the tattooed skin of a deceased person, frame, and mount this macabre artwork for the ultimate show of affection.

Questions About Tattoo Preservation

In an article on Save My Ink, CNN wrote about the idea of postmortem tattoo preservation where people can sign up and register the artwork that they want removed from their bodies after death and then bequeath the mounted art pieces to family members.

It's a little creepy to look at my skin and think about what pieces would look great on my father-in-law's wall or how my nieces or nephews might want something to remember me in their dorm rooms and might be inspired by some of the script I have on my body. If I, for some reason, outlive my husband, I may want him to have the wedding tattoo mounted over our bed. I could leave my tattoo of our family name to our son.

I understand the deep cultural roots of tattooing through history and how tattoos are very personal pieces of art, but I still can't see myself wanting to have myself skinned so I can leave a little bit of myself for my family.

How much does tattoo preservation cost?

The prices, according the Save My Ink, are as stated: $115 plus an annual fee of $60 to join the group. Members can register one tattoo "roughly the size of a chest piece" for postmortem preservation. They can pay another $100 for additional tattoos or to double the size of the ink that's commemorated. But still, there remains the big question of what such a procedure would cost. There would have to be a contract written to have these areas of skin removed before the body was buried or cremated.

What if one of the preregistered tattoos is altered because of the cause of death and it were long longer preservable? Could the design be touched up by an artist before it were framed or shadowboxed to keep the pigment fresh?

I can't find answers for these questions.

Specific tattoos can be preregistered with groups such as Save My Ink, which also requires a monthly membership to the group.

How Are the Tattoos Collected?

According the National Association for the Preservation of Skin Art, kits to remove the tattooed skin would be supplied to those using the service. These kits would contain what was needed to preserve the skin. In other words, the process of removal of the skin would be left to the people who wanted to preserve it.

Although I am an organ donor, I don't really think the idea of having skin carved off my body and put into the kit and presented the mourning family is my idea of a good time. To be fair, scientists and historians have done this many times, but something in the pre-planning stages of selecting what skin to goes to who and knowing it will be displayed in their homes kind of gives me the creeps.


Preserved Tattoos Hanging in Museums

The collection of human tattooed skin is nothing new, according to this story in Vice. The London Science Museum has a vast collection of nineteenth century Romanian tattoos.

Although my tattoos are important to the development of who I am, I can't really say that anything I have on my body would be museum-worthy. There are things that are acceptable in museums or academia, but homage in the home isn't the same thing. To be honest, I find the idea a little distasteful and creepy.


Protecting Your Investment

People are proud of their body art. I find accounts of many tattoo enthusiasts like myself who are looking at tattoo preservation as a way to get their money's worth out of their expensive art.

Tattooing is far from cheap. While I only have a few thousand dollars invested so far, those with far more elaborate work have invested maybe tens of thousands of dollars in their beautiful pieces. The more complex the work and skilled the artist, the higher the price.

There will always be the college student that got the tattoo of something they were into back in college and have now forgotten about and no longer feel affiliated with. These stories are what make the market for tattoo removal and cover up a booming market. There will always be stories of people in the spur of the moment getting something they will later hate or the name of an ex lover. It's unlikely anyone will want to protect those investments.

But still, for some, tattoo preservation could allow them to leave a unique gift to their loved ones. For some, it may be the ultimate consolation piece after losing that person and gaining a part of them back.

Or it could be a conduit for spiritual activity... who is really to say?


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