Historically, battle heroes were tattooed to commemorate bravery. Then somewhere along the line society decided that inked individuals owned pet rats and worshipped Satan, or they had slammed enough bathtub gin to want snakes punctured onto their bicep.
In short, what started out as a form of honor became a polarizing form of self-expression.
The pendulum is swinging back. Instead of hula girls and MOM hearts (which I would happily commission for all three of my kids), tattoos have become imprimaturs and intimate symbols of gratitude and thankfulness. People today are celebrating loved ones, recovery from illness and addiction, travel, life change, or simply finding the strength to go ahead and get one even though a partner dislikes them.
Westport’s Amanda Mas, praised for her creativity and skill, is the tattooist of choice for many Fairfield residents seeking these deeply personal types of emblems. As the rare female tattooist in this area, or any area (unless someone’s lurking in the shadows…), she’s both artist and confidante to numerous women and men who share their stories while enduring not-unpainless needle pricks.
Amanda is that even rarer tattooist who sets boundaries. “I don’t do face tattoos, I don’t care if you’re post-Malone.” And if you think you and your girlfriends are going to stumble in after too many mimosas, well, first, she’s booked solid right now. Second, no. Also, she doesn’t do hands (unless you already have arm sleeves) or neck unless it’s already covered with images. “I’m not going to be your job-ruiner,” she says.
Fortunately, the images most people want to symbolize the bumps and ruts in their life journey are discreet and picaresque. Of the art, the placement, even the process, Amanda states, “It’s an intimate thing.”
Amanda introduced me to three of her clients who were willing to share their stories:
I watched Amanda at work on a woman in her 80’s who was accompanied by her granddaughter. They asked to remain anonymous, so I’ll call her “Rose”.
Rose had endured numerous surgeries and courses of chemo to fight stomach cancer. This August, doctors delivered her final prognosis: there was no more they could do for her. On her bucket list was to get a tattoo. She’d always wanted one but her husband disliked them.
Her granddaughter asked Rose’s doctors about it. They encouraged her to do whatever Rose wanted to do during her last days.
As Amanda inked Rose and her husband’s initials onto her wrist, I asked what else was on her bucket list. Rose paused, then said, “Actually, this is it.”
When it was finished, Amanda carefully wrapped Rose’s wrist in plastic wrap. Then Rose’s granddaughter walked her carefully out of the studio and into the rest of her life.
Emily and Jonathan Cafasso shared with us their heartbreaking story. On July 1, 2020, Emily gave birth to a stillborn son, Benjamin, due to an undetected umbilical cord knot. Grief-stricken, they sought ways to honor his life and cope with their anguish.
A family member suggested a tattoo and Jon recalled reading an article about Amanda Mas a few days before. They contacted Amanda and, though her schedule was full, she created an appointment for them.
Amanda inked Benjamin’s name on their right arms. “Whenever we hug someone,” Emily explains, “Benjamin is in the middle of it."
Though it can’t mitigate their burden, their tattoos are a constant reminder of their blessings and of the love in their lives. According to Emily, “It’s a story of great loss and great love.”
Of these stories, Amanda admits “It’s an emotional job. I have to call my Mom a lot.”
Editor’s note: While shooting this story, our photographer, Jerri, finally folded and got one for herself. A camera, to commemorate her career and the decision to open her first studio on Riverside Avenue in Westport.