A tattoo always tells a story. Sometimes that story is very simple. Other times it’s more complex or emotional.

And in the case of military tattoos, they can evoke pain, loss, pride, patriotism and love — often in the same image.

The Maine Veterans Project, a Bangor-based suicide prevention and veteran support organization, showcased the tattoos of veterans, as well as those of the general public, at a tattoo show held Dec. 3 at Seasons Restaurant in Bangor.

Maine Veterans Project founder Shawn Goodwin said that members of the military have a longstanding tradition of getting tattoos to commemorate their service and those with whom they served.

“Tattoos have always been a very military-centric thing,” Goodwin said. “Art is a great way to express some of the things we don’t want to talk about.”

“Sometimes the pain of the tattoo paired with the pain of the emotional trauma can be healing, in a way. And it’s a permanent remembrance of whatever it is you’ve been through.”

More than 50 veterans and non-military alike showed up to enter the tattoo competition, as well as many more spectators. The event, co-sponsored and judged by local tattoo shops Diversified Ink and Forecastle Tattoo in Bangor and Lucky 13 Tattoo in East Millinocket, raised more than $1,200 for the Maine Veterans Project.

Beyond being an event for tattoo enthusiasts, the competition — like most of the events the Maine Veterans Project organizes — offers a place for vets to gather and connect.

“Things like this are a great way for people to get together and talk about those painful things,” Goodwin said. “Tattoos are a really easy way to get conversations started.”

There were seven categories in the tattoo competition. Color large went to Emily Dexter (tattoo artist Abby Lusk, Diversified Ink), color small went to Dakota Crosby (DNA Tattoo, Lincoln), black and gray large went to Shawna Aiken (Abby Lusk and Siobhan Alexander, Diversified Ink), black and gray small went to Amanda Lachance (Will Cassio, Lucky 13), sleeve went to Luke Short (Abby Lusk and Harley Gray, Diversified Ink), military tattoo went to Daniel Avila (Sailor Ink, Rhode Island), and overall best went to Emily Dexter.

To reach a suicide prevention hotline, call 888-568-1112 or 800-273-TALK (8255), or visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

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Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native and proud Bangorian, covering business, the arts, restaurants and the culture and history of the Bangor region.