Stowe is an alluring destination for many pursuits and interests — ski capital of the East, world-class beers and restaurants, stunning natural beauty with a flourishing arts scene to match — but the next souvenir you bring home might be a little more permanent than a print or a painting.
World Famous Monkey House Customs seems to be the first tattoo studio to land in Stowe, but owner Ryann Schofield is already booked solid with clients wanting artwork etched onto their bodies.
Schofield, 33, a Jeffersonville native, chose Stowe as the spot for the shop of her very own. She was a massage therapist and spa manager at Smugglers’ Notch Resort when she started learning how to tattoo, but back when she was in high school, the lifelong artist knew she’d make skin her medium.
“It’s all I wanted to do, just art,” Schofield said. “I decided (tattooing) was the only way to have a good income and to do art.”
She took every art class available, including classes at Community College of Vermont during her senior year of high school, but when she was offered a tattoo apprenticeship for the first time at age 17, she turned it down. Five years later she was ready to go, starting her training at True Tattoo in St. Albans.
After two years there, she made the transition to full-time tattooing. Following four years at Luminary Ink in St. Albans and a brief stint at Marigold Adornment in Montpelier, she was ready for her own shop.
“When I moved to Marigold from St. Albans, I realized that 95 percent of my clients were traveling there for me, and I was tattooing maybe one person a month from St. Albans,” Schofield said. “Once I realized that, the possibilities were endless.”
She said there was a rumor in the tattoo world that Stowe didn’t allow tattoo shops, but when she started looking for spaces to rent, she discovered that the town was remarkably welcoming.
“It’s not like I’m trying to open up a brothel,” Schofield laughed. “We’re very artistic. It’s not your run-of-the-mill skulls and death metal, although if that’s what you want … we’re not killing kittens and sacrificing chickens.”
She rented space from John Lupien in the Baggy Knees shopping center, in the building that includes the Stowe Cinema 3-Plex, McCarthy’s Restaurant and Moira’s Hairstyling, and opened her doors in April.
One wall in the shop is painted a warm ocher yellow with golden triangle decals; others are dark blue with pink and gold sponge patterns around the top, or charcoal gray.
The walls are filled with artwork created by Schofield and her apprentices — a paintbrush dripping a polished, precise river of colors, a rainbow ink-streaked mirror; there’s also old-school tattoo flash and colorful, geometric designs and mandalas. There are bright work lights at the tattoo stations, but around the shop ambiance is created by clear glass orbs of light, wrought fixtures and a glass lamp shaped like a branch full of lotuses.
A small lounge area welcomes guests to flip through artist portfolios and art books while relaxing on a blue velvet couch with sequined pillows, or perched on antique Gothic-style spired wooden chairs.
“I’ve been surprised by the people who have come in the door; they’ve been so open,” Schofield said. “Even older people from the town who don’t have tattoos, they’ve just come in to say hi, which is just great.”
Who gets inked?
According to a 2015 Harris Poll, nearly 30 percent of Americans have at least one tattoo. Tattoos are more prevalent among the younger set (nearly half of millennials, and 36 percent of Gen-Xers), but about 13 percent of Baby Boomers, and one in 10 Americans above the age of 70, are also inked.
Tattooing has been done for more than 5,000 years in many civilizations. It’s been used to symbolize everything from protection in childbirth for Egyptian women to nobility among nomadic Indo-European tribes. Tattoos among Polynesian cultures communicated ancestry, status, rank and abilities, and played a powerful role in religious rituals and warriors’ identities.
Today, tattoos can be ritualistic, marking life events or memorializing a loved one. They can be used to heal, girding physical or emotional scars. They can symbolize fellowship among friends or family — in 2015, a Kansas man got a large crimson mark tattooed on his head to match his young son’s scar from a cancer treatment. Or, they can be ornamental, purely for aesthetic enjoyment — intended for public eyes, or not.
The stigma of having tattoos is fading, Schofield said, and she has clients of all ages and walks of life. Recently, she gave a first tattoo to a woman in her 70s who had recently lost her husband.
“I do turn people away, sometimes. It’s your name on a tattoo, so if somebody wants a swastika on their forehead, you’re like, no. But if somebody insists on getting a stupid tattoo, it’s like job security, because I know they’ll be back in four years to get it covered up,” Schofield said.
The demographic has skewed younger for the past few years, Schofield said, but it’s mixed.
Clients are “definitely looking for custom work, people who want me to create a piece for them. It’s a more artistic crowd, trendy, with more of an artisan feel.”
She’s also been surprised by the number of tourists who stumble upon the shop and want a lasting memory of their trip, or those who travel hours specifically for her work. One client recently made an eight-hour round-trip drive just for the tattoo; she’s worked on people from as far away as Florida and Kansas.
“I am big, big on making sure the person is happy with what we’re doing,” Schofield said. “I try to make sure people are comfortable enough to speak up. I feel like my clients trust me 100 percent, and that’s a great feeling.”
Schofield specializes in watercolor-style tattoos, using a broad palette of inks and blending shades seamlessly to create splashes and washes of color. She said trusting clients and years of practice helped hone her technique, but she’s constantly evolving.
“I’m very versed in many, many styles of tattooing. … I’m lucky that I got experience in all of it,” Schofield said.
“You never stop learning. I’m my hardest critic.”
The artists’ studio
Schofield has three apprentices learning the art of tattooing — Anne Winslow, Ali Beddoe and Adam Vindigni — and microblading artist Priscilla Roy.
Microblading is a semi-permanent procedure that creates hair-like strokes to fill in, shape …
There’s a certain maternal energy in the shop: Schofield has two children of her own, Beddoe has a son, and Winslow and Roy each have four children, all between the ages of 2 and 14.
“We’re all very passionate artists,” Schofield said. “It’s nice to be able to share something I’m so passionate about.”
“Art is something I’ve done my entire life,” Beddoe said, “It’s the one thing I’m very confident about. Even if it’s the first time (tattooing), you’re used to using your hands, you have a certain eye, you see light and shadows in different ways.
“That’s the true art behind tattooing. Listening to Ryann talk, and seeing her tattoo … it’s skin, so you only get a couple goes at it. You can’t go back and keep shading and shading, because it’s somebody’s flesh,” Beddoe said.
“It’s totally different than being able to erase,” Schofield said. “You can’t be like, ‘Oops!’” she laughed. “Don’t say ‘oops’ when you’re tattooing. Lesson.”
The apprentices practice tattooing on citrus fruits, bananas and synthetic skin, and also on each other. Schofield charges $150 per hour for her work; once apprentices start charging clients, it’s 50 percent off, closing the gap as they hone their craft.
“Adam excelled pretty quickly, because he doesn’t have any children,” Schofield joked.
Vindigni, 25, is also co-owner of the Stowe-based Powe. Snowboards company, which he started with a friend when he was attending the University of Vermont. When he saw the Monkey House sign in Stowe and realized what Schofield had going, he persuaded her to take him on as an apprentice, and is thrilled to be creating art on skin.
“It’s like learning how to ski or snowboard after you already know. … Especially starting as a tattoo artist, obviously there’s a lot of nerves,” Vindigni said. “If you’ve ever started a new job, you know that feeling of not knowing anything. It was different because I felt like I was finally qualified for something.”
With the three apprentices, Schofield’s studio can accommodate walk-ins in addition to her packed-solid schedule of custom work.
The self-proclaimed workaholic also makes her own custom jewelry, which she sells in the shop alongside delicate, unique pieces by other artists.
With two tattoo stations and a room for microblading, Schofield’s already thinking about expanding the shop. She offers earlobe piercing now, and she’s looking to employ a body piercer. She’d like to offer more kinds of permanent makeup options, and even subtle enhancements like beauty marks, freckles and nipples — popular after mastectomies and breast cancer treatments.
“I try and stay up to date with technology and the industry. If I’m not tattooing, I’m drawing. If I’m not drawing, I’m researching,” Schofield said.
“You want to help people care for their bodies in all ways," Beddoe said. “To create this beautiful art, and also feel comfortable in their skin.”