The All American Tattoo Convention
April 12-14, 2019
Fayetteville, North Carolina
There’s a legendary connection between tattoos and the US military. For active service personnel and reservists to honored veterans, tattoos are a constant reflection or their loyalty, not only to their branch or unit, but also to their country. Tattoos also showcase the pride in camaraderie with fellow soldiers or in remembrance of a fallen comrade. The goal of The All American Tattoo Convention is to give some of the bravest heroes in the world the opportunity to be tattooed by some of the best tattoo artists in the industry.
2019 marked the third tour of The All-American Tattoo Convention, appropriately held in Fayetteville, North Carolina, nearby Fort Bragg, the largest military base in the free world.
“There’s a misconception that you can’t get a good quality tattoo around a military base. There’s no one style that’s representative of the military anymore — there are so many different people in the military, and people from all over the world come to military bases like Fort Bragg,” says Ryan Harrell, owner of Fayetteville’s American Tattoo Society, who puts on the convention with wife Nicole. “Being in the military, most of the people in the service don’t have the opportunity to travel wherever to get tattooed — so it’s a big deal to be able to bring such a diverse group of talented artists to our show.”
Three-hundred-26 artists, to be exact, and 256 booths filling up the 75,000 square foot hall at the Crown Complex Expo Center. Many of the artists, such as Dave Clark, Cactus Jack, Tony Four Fingers, have military connections whether they themselves served or had family who wore a uniform.
USAA, a leading provider of insurance and other services to US. Military members, veterans and their families, provides grants for former service members who are now professional tattoo artists to participate in the event. There’s even a Veterans Row where those artists are recognized.
An all-veteran parachute team kicks things off with a skydiving demonstration, and the Rolling Thunder, a veteran motorcycle club, hosts a Missing Man table where POW and MIA’s were remembered with a single red rose and a moment of silence to open the convention.
Along with the typical tattoo contests are special military related categories including Best Military Theme Tattoo and Best Tattoo by a Veteran — that class alone had more than 50 entries with the top three places going to Tony 4 Fingers, Chris Jones and Benjamin Buttler; all three are authorized artists from Operation Tattooing Freedom. Winners of the contests received a unique metal sculpture of a tattered American flag made locally by Metal Works Inc (metalworxinc.net).
A lifetime achievement award was posthumously given to Brandon Gallero, a longtime Fayetteville tattooer, who apprenticed many artists in the area, and passed suddenly in 2019.
According to Harrell, 80% of the tattoo clientele in the Fayetteville area are active duty or veterans, and the goal of the convention is give back more than just with art. Part of that respect and support comes from the facts that a portion of ticket sales is donated to Fisher House, an organization that provides a “home away from home” for veterans’ and military families while their loved one receives care on the base, and Operation Tattooing Freedom, which matches US. Military Veterans suffering from different conditions, such as PTSD, with artist local to them to help them cope with their issues. More than $18,000 has been raised over the last three years.
“When you live in Fayetteville it’s hard to not have some attachment to the military,” Harrell says. “We owe a lot to the military, not only for helping to provide us (as local tattoo artists) the lives we do and allowing us the opportunity to be able to put great tattoos on members of the military, but just for everything that they do.”