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Tattoo Expo Opens for the Weekend

The buzzing of tattoo machines will fill the Grand Exhibit Hall of the Morgantown Event Center at Waterfront Place this weekend as the 7th annual West Virginia Tattoo Expo returns to Morgantown.

“We’ve held it here every year. Everybody’s excited to be back here,” said event organizer Rocco Cunningham. “It’s almost become like a large family reunion for the artists because they come back year after year.”

Besides onsite tattooing, attendees can enjoy displays of artwork available for purchase, tattoo contests, an on-site arcade and food and beverage vendors. The expo continues through Sunday, Aug. 25.

“There’s something for everyone, and it’s a family friendly event,” Cunningham said.

Tattoo conventions have become popular in recent years as tattoos have gained more mainstream acceptance and because they provide unique opportunities for artists. This weekend alone there are also tattoo conventions taking place in Phoenix, Ariz., and Knoxville, Tenn.

“When you stay in one place too long you can get stagnant, so traveling allows you to constantly meet new people, see new things. You see new artists, new styles and you come back home inspired,” Cunningham said.
The convention also brings together artists and clients who would otherwise not be able to work together due to distance.

“We have tattooers literally travel here from all parts of the United States,” Cunningham said. “From New York to Florida, from California to here.”

“There’s a good variety here,” said West Virginia University graduate student Olivia Sinclair. She came early to the convention with three of her friends. “We came right at 12:30 when they opened, because we know that people are going to come later and have to come back tomorrow. We know they get pretty busy.”

Csimo Liberto (below left), accompanied by Danielle Liberto (center) of Carson Street Tattoo, explains to Nick Velez (right) how he will draw and create the requested tattoo at the 7th annual Tattoo Expo in Morgantown Friday.

“This is my favorite convention, hands down,” said tattoo artist Lesya Danko, of Iron Will Tattoo Club. She came to the convention from Philadelphia with her husband and business partner, Sam Sea.
“I like that its not humongous and nerve-racking. I like that it’s very intimate,” she said.

Philadelphia is home to one of the world’s largest tattoo conventions, with over 1,500 artists slated to attend the event in January. In contrast, the West Virginia Tattoo Expo is hosting around 180 artists this year.

“It’s like a second family, because we keep in touch with a lot of people from here. We get to see each other in person once a year,” Danko said.
Family was an important aspect for Cunningham when he first put the convention together seven years ago.

“I have a daughter and it was important for me from year one that my daughter could come here. So we made sure it was family friendly,” he said. Kids under 12 get free admission to the expo with a paying adult.
The sense of community keeps many of the artists coming back to Morgantown every year.

“This is about family and tattooing,” said veteran tattoo artist Rick Cherry, who has been tattooing since 1970. After nearly 50 years of professional tattooing, he says that the West Virginia Tattoo Expo is the only tattoo convention he attends.

“Unlike a lot of other conventions, this is a collection of very talented artists, but there’s no conflict, there’s no hostility between artists,” Cherry said.
He says that while he’s seen competition and distrust among tattoo artists at many conventions over the years, nothing like that happens at the West Virginia Tattoo Expo.

“I can walk up to anybody’s booth … and say ‘Hey, explain to me some of this what you do and how you achieve this result’ and they’ll sit there and tell you. Everybody is so open here, totally open,” Cherry said.

“This is, in my opinion anyways, the best tattoo convention in the United States.”