the heidelberg project

The Heidelberg Project started with one man, Tyree Guyton. Growing up in Detroit during the riots of the late 60s, Guyton was dismayed at the decay and segregation that followed.

In 1986, he decided to transform his childhood neighbor, focusing on Heidelberg Street. There were plenty of vacant lots and empty houses to use as his canvas. Guyton’s environment is made of paint and discarded objects, many toys.

Though Guyton has won awards for his work, the city demolished parts of the environment in the 1990s, bulldozing five houses. Fortunately, the court ruled that the Project is protected under the first amendment. However, that didn’t stop arsonists who destroyed another nine houses last year.

The Heidelberg Project is now a community organization that encourages residents to use “artistic expression to enrich their lives and to improve the social and economic health of their greater community.”

Guyton brazenly uses the tools of blight and abandonment, empty houses or buildings burned to their foundation and trashed household goods, to bring attention to those issues. The Heildelberg Project is an excellent example of activist art, continuing to rise form the ashes and encouraging the community to discover hope in debris.

It was a unusually sunny for a midwestern winter day, so the photos are great. Here are some overview shots of the two-block environment. I’ll post more detailed photos on my Instagram account.

The infamous polkadot house.
the infamous polkadot house
an empty lot piled high with discarded toys
an empty lot piled high with discarded toys
collection of trophies; painted clocks are everywhere
collection of trophies; painted clocks are everywhere
the doghouse
the doghouse
overview of artwork on empty lots
overview of artwork on empty lots
stuffed animals sit on a burned house's foundation
stuffed animals sit on a burned house’s foundation

bodies of subversion

Screen Shot 2013-09-05 at 10.52.54 AMBodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo by Margot Mifflin (New York: Powerhouse Books)

Having read the 1997 print, I want you to know that this 2013 third edition is much, much better. There is more material in the historical chapters and a whole new section on contemporary tattoo artists. The printing is better too; this edition is printed on stock photo paper. This means the historical black-and-white images have more variation and detail. Full color images are used when available.

If you haven’t read the earlier editions of Mifflin’s text, it’s worth taking the time. It’s an easy read that introduces the best women tattoo artists and collectors, from the beautiful Maud Stevens Wagner to the infamous Kat Von D (whether you like her not, she is the most famous tattoo artist of all time). Mifflin doesn’t shy away from discussing the discrimination many women encountered as they tried to learn the trade. In the more contemporary chapters, she highlights the sexuality associated with women tattoo collectors.

Many women have faced discrimination or sexual aggression because of their tattoos. For those women, this books will act as a quiet welcome into the subculture while giving a feminist history of the art. It’s a must read for any woman with a tattoo.


ink from paper to flesh

As an artist and librarian, I’m fascinated by tattoo culture. As a librarian and bibliophile, I am curious to see how books have transformed lives. To ink a quote or illustration on your flesh is true passion. It means the act of reading was not this is a great story but I am not the person I was before. Is this possible? To be permanently altered by language – enough to permanently alter your appearance?

Obviously yes. There are blogs dedicated to literary tattoos, the best being Contrariwise and The Word Made Flesh (which also has, appropriately, a book). On these sites people post images of their tattoos, the full quote and book title. Contrariwise even links to the book in Amazon.

Often in these posts, tattooed people will tell us why it’s so important to be marked by words. There are basic testaments such as someone “really connected with this book” or took “great inspiration” from it. But we also hear from Bethany, a single mom who finds companionship in To Kill a Mockingbird. Another girl with an abusive mother turned to Harry Potter; “I needed an escape,” she writes.

Librarians, writers, and teachers – if you need to remind yourself (or prove to others) the importance of what you do, just find someone whose shoulder reads So it goes… or is carrying a mockingjay on their arm and ask why.

Here are a few of my favorites:

The Little Prince, one of my favorite stories too!


Fahrenheit 451


The Scarlet Letter


Penguin Publishers must be proud 


Rime of Ancient Mariner (I am so jealous of this one!)
Rime of the Ancient Mariner (I am so jealous of this one!)


Because I love The Little Prince, here’s one more


Next up: famous (and not so) artwork as tattoos!