Save your skin: National organization specializes in tattoo preservation

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Richmond is ranked among the most tattooed cities in the country.

Do you have one? If you do, would you want your family to have it after you’re gone? Yes, the actual piece of art.

“My family knows the meaning behind these tattoos. My grandson does, they all do,” said Charles Hamm. “So, I thought it could be nice that I could somehow leave these tattoos to them.”

With the help of a couple of embalmers and doctors, Hamm founded the National Association for the Preservation of Skin Art. That’s right … We’re talking about real human skin, preserved after a person’s death.


“Someone in Richmond could join and sign up, and upon their passing, their beneficiary would notify us what funeral home to send a kit to,”Hamm said.

The tattoo is then cut off, put into a preservative, sent to NAPSA headquarters in Cleveland and then preserved. The society may be relatively new, but the concept is not.

“Initially it was used for identification purposes,” said local tattoo artist C.J. Fishburn. “Sailors, people that would just show up in a town and pass away … They’d bury the body, keep the tattoos in formaldehyde and keep them in case anyone came looking for them.”

Today, the goal of NAPSA is to not only remember the person who wore the art …

“Personal art, it’s yours it doesn’t have to be for everybody else,” said tattoo artist and historian Mike Skiver Sr. “It means something to you.”

But the art itself is also a piece of cultural history.

“You know the only thing older on earth than tattooing is cave drawings,” Skiver Sr. added. “They say the ice man was tattooed.”

So, would a tattoo artist do it?

“I’d need a big frame,” Fishburn said. “Yeah, I would.”

For those who might be a little grossed out, Skiver joked, “well, don’t look at it!”

It’s $60 a year t become a member of NAPSA. There are no members in Richmond just yet, but anyone in the U.S. can sign up.

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