Deep Roots Inspire Community: the artistic upbringing of the Boulder Tattoo Project’s Chelsea Pohl

By Lauren Maslen

Chelsea Pohl is a kaleidoscope. As the project manager of the Boulder Tattoo Project, Chelsea has her eyes set on many artistic ventures and she isn’t set to stop anytime soon.

“She snatches the right opportunities when they arise,” explains her sister, Alyssum Pohl. “But she’s patient. That’s why she’s successful.”

Chelsea Pohl's series of dinosaur paintings is on display at Logan's Espresso Cafe in Boulder.

Chelsea Pohl’s series of dinosaur paintings is on display at Logan’s Espresso Cafe in Boulder.

Chelsea paints dinosaurs. She paints blood splatters, cats, and critters. She is also a photographer and sculptor. She teaches art classes; writes and illustrates children’s books; owns a tattoo studio with her husband, Vinny, and raises two daughters named Tiger and Phoenix (which the tattoo studio, Claw and Talon, is named after). Chelsea manages all of this while successfully bringing the Boulder Tattoo Project to its new home. The project is a community-wide creative initiative which begins inking after Halloween, and Chelsea has been preparing for months.

Chelsea is a hardworking businesswoman, entrepreneur, artist, and mother. She’s inspired, she says, and this inspiration is a gift she hopes she can pass on to others.

“I feel like Boulder is pretty conservative when it comes to the arts. I just want to find a way to crack open the rigidness when it comes to that… I’m working on it.”

Deep Roots Lead to Sharp Peaks

Chelsea moved to Boulder when she was 17 years old. She knew she loved it long before that, however; the initial view of the Flatirons while driving over the hills of Route 36 for the first time struck a nerve with her when she was 13. It was an “aha!” moment she would never forget.

“I had a premonition I would live here one day.”

Chelsea was accepted into Naropa University at age 16.

“I had my trajectory; I knew what I was doing.”

Life would take its turns, leading to more travel and a life in Boulder. The people she would meet along the way would be the catalyst to a life of art, innovation, and inspiration.

Chelsea Pohl co-owns Claw and Talon Tattoo on Folsom Street in Boulder with her husband, Vinny.

Chelsea Pohl co-owns Claw and Talon Tattoo on Folsom Street in Boulder with her husband, Vinny.

Chelsea grew up in Kentucky in a family that some might consider slightly less than rigid. When she was 7, Chelsea’s parents took her, Chelsea’s sister and two kittens sailing between the East Coast and Bahamas for a year  “When you’re living on a boat, you don’t have anything around you. You’re limited to where you are,” Alyssum said. Creativity came into play: the sisters were each other’s playmates, they invented languages and were artistic. “This translated into our adult lives – whatever you’re motivated to do, do it. No one’s going to do it for you.”

Merm was one of the kittens that lived on the boat with the family. “Merm talk,” an invented language, progressed out of Chelsea’s childhood obsession with the cat. Now she has written and illustrated several books based on him, including “The Adventures of Merm the Cat,” which was released in August 2010.

After some slight hiccups with a book deal, Chelsea decided to self-publish. She said she doesn’t know how people received the Merm books, but that’s not the point.

“A lot of times I just do things because I love them… just cause that’s your natural expression.”

The Boulder Tattoo Project

The Boulder Tattoo Project came out of Lexington, Ky. A collaborative started by two artists, Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova, the Lexington Tattoo Project is an ongoing project containing the elements of a poem, tattoos, photography, and now a book.

“Chelsea is the first person to invite us and this Tattoo Project artwork to another city besides our own,” Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova wrote in an email.

Chelsea learned about the project through her sister, Alyssum, and decided she wanted to bring the project to her adopted hometown. She went back to Lexington where Gohde and Todorova invited her to take part in the Lexington initiation.

“That just made sense! I’m the bridge between the two cities,” said Chelsea.

Vinny did her tattoos in Lexington. “Deep Roots” now rest respectively on each of her ankles.

Chelsea remarks that it was a good experience to reconnect with her old town, a place she doesn’t often go back to.

The Boulder Tattoo Project's next event will be at the Laughing Goat Cafe on Pearl Street on Halloween night. Participants and the public are invited to attend. A silent auction with donations from local artists and vendors will benefit Boulder flood relief.

The Boulder Tattoo Project’s next event will be at the Laughing Goat Cafe on Pearl Street on Halloween night. Participants and the public are invited to attend. A silent auction with donations from local artists and vendors will benefit Boulder flood relief.

The tattoo projects are all about community. They are about showing love of one’s city. It’s not just about tattoos. The project is about peoples’ connections to their city and how they express that. How else can one usually do so besides living in a town?

Chelsea will be conducting a demographic survey at the tattooing to see what participants’ backgrounds involve. All kinds of people get involved with the project.  “There are a lot of first time tattoo-ees,” Chelsea said.

“People are really excited. People are saying, ‘This feels bigger than me.’”

The Boulder Tattoo Project will not only consist of tattoos. The multimedia collaborative will feature the poem “Boulder Zodiac” by Anne Waldman; words and phrases of the poem as tattoos; photography of the tattoos and their owners; a music score by Gregory Alan Isakov; and a final film which will combine all of these individual elements.

“Chelsea has set an extremely high bar for the people that we will work with in other cities–she has been twice the collaborator we hoped for and Boulder is so lucky to have her,” Gohde said.

Want to get involved in the project? It’s not too late!

Even though the project has given away its 200 words and phrases from Anne Waldman’s “Boulder Zodiac” poem, those still wanting to get involved in the Boulder Tattoo Project can receive commas for the shop’s $50 minimum. They won’t be covered by the art grants which are supporting the project, but they will allow Boulderites to feel like a part of the community and the Boulder Tattoo Project – exactly what Chelsea hopes to achieve.

Audio transcript:

Dinosaurs… big dinosaurs.

That’s my dinosaur series right now. I want to keep doing more dinosaurs. I want to go bigger, because big is dramatic and dinosaurs are dramatic.

The T. rex is probably the biggest painting I’ve ever done. When you see it in a big space it looks small, and when you see it in a small space it looks big. So I’m like, I could go bigger.

Chelsea Pohl Talks Tattoos

It’s very daunting to me. Very daunting. Probably the scariest thing ever. I’m also not a very patient person and I don’t sit very still for very long. So I know with tattooing, you have to be very diligent and committed. Not even to tattoo, but to learn it. 

It’s such an intense and different medium and I’m really not disciplined. It’s really like that with my art; I’m very undisciplined. 

In that way I have so much respect for tattoo artists. I think that tattoo artists don’t get enough credit for the skill that they have. There’s definitely a soft spot in my heart for people who are tattoo artists. 

The Boulder Tattoo Project

I found out about the tattoo project in Lexington form my sister. She sent me a link to it. I kind of thought about it for a few months and didn’t really know what to do with it but then it just hit me and I was like, ‘Oh I’ve got to see if we can do this.’ 

I reached out to the artists in Lexington about it, and they said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’

So we started the communication about it and just figuring out how it would work. I don’t know, everything has just fallen into place since then with it. 

I thought that it would be the perfect project for Boulder, and for our business, and for me. For me to take on that leadership challenge. To do something because I had a lot of time, and I needed something to sink my teeth into. It was just perfect; it was such a gift, because it’s all about community and art, and it just couldn’t have fit me better.

Finding yourself in a community that you normally wouldn’t find yourself in, I think makes for a deeper experience and a stronger community. That’s one of the things I love about the tattoo project is that it takes all types of people and puts them together under a multitude of contexts and a multitude of art forms and there’s a lot of different reasons why people come and are interested in it and they immediately have a connection and I think that’s so cool. I don’t know; I just love it. 



2 thoughts on “Deep Roots Inspire Community: the artistic upbringing of the Boulder Tattoo Project’s Chelsea Pohl

  1. Pingback: Deep Roots Stretching Far | The Lexington Tattoo Project

  2. Pingback: Michelle: The Instructor “was at peace with her having seizures” | The Boulder Buddhist Scam

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