Meet the Tattoo King and Queen of Haywood County
It's been said that tattoos are like potato chips. You can't have just one.
Call it a fascination, addiction or even a passion, but people these days are intrigued by (and covered with) more tattoos than ever. So, it makes sense that when Heidi B. Haywood, The Mountaineer's de facto Facebook mascot, asked Haywood County folks to send in pictures of their tattoos for a competition, the tats came rolling in.
There could only be two winners, however, one for the ladies and one for the gents. Meet Becca Bowen and Jackson Reece, the newly crowned Tattoo King and Queen of Haywood County. Both received the most "likes" for their tattoos, but that's about where their similarities end. For Bowen and Reece, like so many lovers of ink, their tattoos tell deeply individual stories — of their past, their present and maybe even their future.
Number of tats: 6
Tattoo artist of choice: Nate Pooler, Euphoria Tattoo in Waynesville
Dark and gloomy isn't Jackson Reece's style — not with tattoos and certainly not in life. His winning tat, which wraps around his arm, represents both his love of motorcycles and his hope to be riding them again.
Five years ago, a bike accident left his spinal cord bruised and him in a wheel chair. Over years of rehab he's been progressing and can even now move around a bit with a walker, but still spends most of his time in his chair Even so, he doesn't sound angry about his accident, but motivated by it.
"It brought a whole new meaning to my life, and it made me realize how short life is," Reece said.
In turn, he commemorated the experience with gears on one side of his forearm. On the other is a picture of three men riding away on bikes and the words "Ride It Like You Stole It." This isn't just some carefree saying but a memorial, this time for a friend who died in a separate bike accident. The image is Reece, his late buddy DJ and and another friend riding together shortly before DJ's accident. For some, having a constant reminder of an old life and an old friend would touch off an emotional coaster, but not Reece.
"I was a proud motorcycle rider," he said, "I get to support it now on my body."
The tattoo isn't just a point of pride, though. It's a promise. Reece dearly hopes to be a full-fledged biker again. It's a hope he put a down payment on recently when his friends helped prop him up on a motorcycle so he could ride around a parking lot. He went for about 15 minutes, and was able to do everything he could before except change gears.
"It was the best feeling in the world, just to be able to accomplish getting back on one again," he said, smiling.
As for whether he'll get more inked up in the future, he sounds sure, explaining that he was just about go talk with Nate Pooler at Euphoria Tattoo about finishing up his sleeve. While Reece knows tattoos aren't for everyone, he stressed that people shouldn't judge others by their ink. Tattoos don't "make the person," he said, and encouraged others who feel inspired by tattoos to take the plunge.
After all, he explained, your body is a temple and people should decorate it if they want.
"If you enjoy the art of a tattoo, then go for it," he said.
Number of tats: 15
Tattoo artist of choice: Lee Brooks of Art Infusion (now in Arden, formerly in Frog Level)
Some of Becca Bowen's tattoos have stories behind them and some don't, but this mother of two loves them all. Once you start getting inked up, it's hard to stop, she explained.
And what made her get that first tat?
"I don't have a clue," she said. "Just got my first one, kind of got addicting after that."
The funny thing is that she can't even remember that first tattoo, which she later had covered up with the tat that won her the "Queen" title. But maybe that long-gone image doesn't matter anyway. What counts is the hunger for ink it sparked in her, which led to a series of tattoos that is by no means finished. Her winning tat, a blend of roses and skulls, is meant to symbolize both the hardships and beauty life brings. Other tattoos include a pair of wings on her back to commemorate a dead friend, a sun on her neck that her husband copied on his arm and an image of pink ribbon to celebrate her stepmother beating breast cancer, to name a few.
One of her favorites is a little heart with a rose going through it — which both her sister and mother have. They all got their tats together during a recent Christmas they spent here, when Bowen's sister traveled from Illinois and her mother came in from South Carolina. Bowen chuckled as she recalled how her mom was always kind of critical of her tattoos.
"All these years complaining and she finally gets one at 61," Bowen said, lightheartedly.
It might be a good thing, too, as Bowen still has big tattoo plans. Her opus, which she calls her "redneck family tree," still needs to be finished. So far, its tangle of vines, a butterfly with Confederate wings and the word "Rebelicious" already circle her stomach. Someday, she wants the tattoo to reach all the way down her leg and include NASCAR elements to represent her son and — eventually — images to celebrate her future grandchildren.
It's a lot, but Bowen's fairly certain even that won't be the end of her tattoos. She explained that urge to get more and more simply doesn't go away, and she might never been satisfied.
"I think it's always going to be there," she said.
Just like tattoos.