Once More With Spirit!: Spirited Tattooing Coalition, the First Queer-Owned Tattoo Shop, Opens on Baltimore Avenue
The moment you walk through the doors of Spirited Tattooing Coalition, you know you’re in a tattoo shop like no other in Philadelphia. From the giant, lush bench created by local carpenter Chrissy Tashjian at the front of the shop to the handmade jewelry created by local artist stitchprism at the back of the shop, this space is all about creativity, inclusivity, and community. The energy is palpable, and shop owner and tattoo artist, Jasmine T. Morrell, knows it.
“My whole career I’ve been told by clients that they feel really comfortable with me and I provide a different experience than most shops they’ve been to in the past. You’re dealing with people’s bodies, so there’s a lot of vulnerability and power dynamics at play,” Morrell says. “People walk away with the experience more than anything else. So while it’s important that a well-executed and beautiful tattoo gets done, it’s also important to remember that you’re tattooing a real live person that has feelings and depth to them.”
Beginning at a young age, Morrell says their artistic style developed from a combination of drawing, practicing fine arts, and a supportive mother who encouraged their artistic growth. Morrell’s passion grew with a tattooing apprenticeship and their approach to art began to change over time. Inspired, they began to understand what’s possible to do with skin and what kinds of tattooing they wanted to produce.
“The other full-time artist at Spirited, Eric Guntor, and I really think about the work we do and talk about it – what’s new, what other people are doing, ways of improving. My portfolio has developed in ways that show what I can excel at. It’s pretty cool to be able to showcase that and have people request pieces based off of that, but also trusting that I’m capable of more.”
After ten years, trust and comfort have become Morrell’s calling card. A short stroll down Baltimore Ave. easily illustrates that Morrell is responsible for many of the tattoos on the people in this city. Such support is noticeable even on Facebook, with people tagging Morrell in comments whenever someone requests a tattoo referral, and in person, with the largest turn-out ever recorded at the community zoning meeting that would secure the site of Spirited Tattooing Coalition. After years of being privy to racism, homophobia, and misogyny in many tattoo shops, and oftentimes being the target of such attacks, Morrell learned to lean on that support. Tired of being mistreated, they realized it was time for change.
“Using she/he/they pronouns and not subscribing to the [gender] binary makes people really uncomfortable sometimes and it boggles my mind, especially when it comes from other artists. I work in an industry full of ‘freaks,’ with people who are tattooed from head to toe, have split tongues, an over abundance of piercings, implants of metal and plastic underneath the skin. And it’s cool. People in the industry work or party together, shrug their shoulders and keep it moving. Yet, I’m some kind of weirdo that makes people uncomfortable because of queerness and nontraditional gender presentation/identity,” Morrell says. “Over the years I’ve been threatened, had aggressive things said to me, and been in very uncomfortable and scary situations. I was motivated by my recent experiences to finally jump in all the way and do it.”
As the first queer person of color to own a business on Baltimore Ave., Morrell shines bright saying it wouldn’t make sense to open their tattoo shop anywhere else but where they find community.
“To me, it means visibility. This part of Philadelphia is my home. We’re just as capable, valuable, and talented as our counterparts. We can be just as successful and be seen doing so. It’s important that queer people of color know and believe this themselves because it’s easy to forget when a lot of the world is telling you otherwise.”
Connecting with local small-business owners Sarah Lefkowich of West Philly Community Acupuncture, Heather Deforrest of Talking Headz hair salon, and Heather DeRussy of Vice Coffee and Tattoo provided motivation and guidance when Morrell understood there was more to running a business than following your passion. They received help along the way and decided to honor the support garnered from the community by including them in the name of the tattoo shop.
“’Coalition’ is there because this is a group effort in a way; I had a lot of support throughout this – physically, emotionally, and financially. I want artists from different parts of the world and different backgrounds and experiences to come work with us for periods of time, especially marginalized people who may otherwise not get their chance to shine in this industry. The shop itself will run as a place that welcomes artists of all types to come do work, be a part of Spirited, and have this space to feel comfortable getting free together,” says Morrell.