Tattooing is a custom dating back thousands of years in North America. Traditionally, women and men used them to visually express tribal affiliation and war honors, as well as connections to divine beings, maturity rites, and social and religious affiliation. These expressions of identity continued on with the person after death—ensuring their place in the afterlife.
Today, tattoos have been adopted by military personnel, musicians, college students, and countless others. Although many are works of art, others, unfortunately, are not, and their permanence provides visual evidence of poor decision making, late-night drinking, and spring break events, many would rather forget! Explore these traditions and artistic expressions though paintings from the permanent collection and photographs from the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum's Dickinson Research Center.