Editor’s note: During each Chips Quinn orientation and multimedia training in Nashville, Tenn., scholars are required to complete a mobile media reporting module, which includes producing videos and reporting and writing stories. Their work is displayed here.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Clients walking into the Black 13 Tattoo Parlor immediately take notice of the massive Victorian-style portraits hanging on the wall. Adorned in elegant black robes, frilly white shirts and curly black wigs, owners Doy Gardner and Josh Woods are depicted sitting on thrones.
“Some clients don’t really put it together,” Gardner said, laughing. “They think they’re old photos of our ancestors or something. But if you look closely, you can see our tattoos.”
A lifelong tattoo enthusiast, Gardner decided to pursue his dream of opening a shop after his life as a road musician started to slow down. He reached out to Woods, a well-respected tattoo artist from Atlanta, about going into business together in Nashville.
“We would have phone calls and keep in touch and basically pitch ideas back and forth, and kind of realized we were on the same page as far as what we thought would make a great shop,” Gardner said. “The idea with Black 13 is that it’s owned by a tattooer and a non-tattooer; myself being the non-tattooer.”
Established in 2008, Black 13 is a passion project for Gardner, 34, who got his first tattoo when he was 18 years old.
“Nashville didn’t really have anything like what we wanted to do,” Gardner said.” The existing shops –– they were great shops and good artists –– but no one was really doing any really big, extensive work. And everyone was leaving the city to get it.”
Gardner said he was frustrated by how many people got their tattoos elsewhere. He wanted to establish a central location in the city where different types of artists could converge and serve different types of clients.
With waiting lists that can go on for months, Black 13 has found a diverse audience in Nashville. Clients range from musicians and major league baseball players to faithful locals.
“I’m fascinated on both sides; from the tattoo client that’s never had anything done, is super nervous, has to have something meaningful and tells us the entire story –– which is completely fine –– to what we consider ‘the collector,’” Gardner said. “They come in and give our artists freedom to do 100 percent whatever they want.”
The tattoo parlor, which is located inside historic Cummins Station, can be difficult to spot unless clients are deliberately looking for it, Gardner said.
“We get somewhat selected people just because you have to do some work to find us,” he said. “We’re not getting a lot of the ‘I’ve had four drinks and there’s a tattoo sign, let’s get tattooed’ kinds of people.”
With most of his body covered in tattoos, Gardner said the artwork practically blends into one piece. Since opening up shop, he has been tattooed by most of the artists at Black 13, including the occasional guest artists the shop hosts.
Lauren Bing, customer and artist relations representative at Black 13, said Gardner and Woods make their tattoo parlor feel like a community.
“It’s great when you feel like you can be friends with some of your bosses. They’re some of the best people I’ve ever met, and they really know how to take care of everyone here, not just customer-wise, but artist-wise,” Bing said. “They’re quirky, but so is everybody.”