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Andrew Bouvia of Five and Dime Tattoos specializes in American traditional tattoos, which have been popular in the Fort Drum soldier population. Bouvia said he can see a change in soldiers since a few years ago; they’re asking for more personalized, happier tattoos.
There are indicators for weather, the stock market, housing prices. But what about something more intangible, like indicators of soldiers feelings? One man in West Carthage, NY, can see a changing story behind what soldiers are asking for in tattoos.
Five and Dime Tattoos is tucked into a corner on a main street in West Carthage, a few minutes for Fort Drum. The shop has beautiful gold script on the windows, and a classic, vintage feel. Owner Andrew Bouvia is soft-spoken with several facial piercings, and a few forearm tattoos of Japanese gold fish.
Andrew can tell where you are from based on your tattoos. He said, “People from the South like a certain kind of look to their tattoo. People from the East Coast like things with color. People from the West Coast like black and grey. So bring them all together in one place and tell me what you like and you’re going to hear a million different stories.”
But he specializes in a style that has traditionally transcended regional styles, American traditionalism, a style he described this way, “American traditional style is a real graphic style of tattooing. It’s got big bold broad lines. The designs are straightforward, semi-cartoony, but they get the point across without a lot of jazz in it. Bright colors, simple shading, that lasts a lifetime. They’re built to last. That’s why they’re the foundation of tattooing today, and they’re the ones everyone always goes back to.”
This style of tattoo became really popular during WW-II, but dates back even further, and soldiers around Fort Drum are particularly drawn to this style now because of the nostalgia it evokes. Bouvia provided an example, “A pinup wrapped in an American flag, surrounded by roses. It’s a reproduction of some design that was created in 1940, 1950, 1930, 1920, 1860 sometimes.”
According to Bouvia, even a few years ago, tattoos with Fort Drum soldiers were different. After 9/11 soldiers were coming and going from war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan. They wanted dog tags and called friends. A unit would all get the same tattoo. Now that combat has receded there’s more of a personal identity under the uniform rather than being a uniform. “It’s nice that it’s changed,” he said. When they came back you’d see a wave of them getting their buddies that they lost over there or remembrance tattoos of people that they lost. You don’t see that as much anymore, which is nice. You’re getting more happy-go-lucky kind of guys coming back.”
Bouvia said he thinks it’s getting easier for soliders, and that they’re not seeing as much of the heaviness that previous deployments were seeing. “They’re still in it, but they’re not in it as deep,” he said.
As Andrew tattoos people, he hears a lot of stories, but he never pushes soldiers to talk. “If we both sit there in silence for the whole tattoo then we both sit in silence for the whole tattoo,” he said.
Andrew has repeat customers, many soldiers. Overtime he’s seen them change. He said, “You can see it through the tattoos. You can see it through their personalities when they come home. They’re more outgoing. They’re not as introverted. And that’s part of the whole therapy thing, you see personalities. When you’re in a business where you deal with people all day you kind of see a pattern in the way people act.”
Tattoos are all about people branding their story on their bodies. And right now, at least in Andrew’s shop, soldiers are more interested in remembering home than remembering war.