Throwing Shade

JUSTIN MITCHELL: Downtown Ocean Springs would be pretty in ink

I'll never forget my grandfather's shrimp boat. Known as Harvey Mitchell by many in Bay St. Louis but as Papa Harvey by his grandchildren, he spent a lot of time in the South Misssissippi waters, either casting for shrimp or tonging for oysters.

You'd never catch him without a pocket T-shirt on that shrunk in the wash, exposing his plump beer belly. His bucket hat always rested atop his head, except for when he was in Mass, and he always ate mustard sardines on saltine crackers while on the boat.

My grandfather died in 2002, but his legacy lives on throughout our family in Bay St. Louis and on my left arm.

In 2014, Ocean Springs artist Matt Stebly designed a quarter-sleeve length tattoo inspired by grandfather's story. The compass looks almost three-dimensional. The clouds are colored purple, and the waves that represent the Gulf of Mexico are hues of blue.

The tattoo, large and full of color, is a constant reminder of my heritage, my culture and my bloodline. And it's not the only one.

Beneath that, Stebly's apprentice, Dylan Sartin, tattooed the petals of a vibrant rose, complete with arrows going through the center. My grandmother, who is called Rosie by most people, has always been a free spirit.

Calling Granny often includes a story about a recent trip or a laugh about her latest experience at the condo pool in Gulf Shores. She lives by a philosophy that growing old doesn't mean you have to grow up. My grandmother always follows her own arrows wherever they may point, as the song goes.

The tattoo, large and full of color and vibrancy, represents my bloodline, my culture and an expression of family history.

I never thought twice about letting an Ocean Springs namesake create art that is a representation of my Bay St. Louis namesake. I will die with art on my skin that is symbolic of the the place that built me.

Ocean Springs should let one of their own and his entire staff make downtown pretty in ink, as cliche as it sounds. An art gallery and tattoo shop located on a strip of shopping, dining, and nightlife in a vibrant Coast city shouldn't even be up for discussion.

As Sun Herald reporter Karen Nelson said in an earlier story about Stebly's fight for a new downtown studio, "And after all, isn't tattoo art? And isn't Ocean Springs known for its art?"

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