Ink Tank

Ink Tank

I pass by a red house on Main Street in Stratford every week. A sign dangles from the porch overhang. “FTS Gallery,” it reads, nestled into the canopy of a surrealist tree-and-shell logo.

“Offering more from forest to shore” is both Stratford’s town motto and the inspiration for the name Forest To Shore. During FTS’s first few months in 2010, founder George Perham tattooed alone, but he was soon joined by other artists, turning a solo project into a collective.

Born and raised in Stratford, Perham proudly declares himself a townie. FTS’s new home as of last August used to be the Little Red School of Art & Music, where Perham took art classes as a child. When the school’s founder Carolyn West and her husband, who continue to teach art and music out of the barn in back, were looking to downsize during the pandemic, Perham saw an opportunity to move FTS on up.

Through the backdoor main entrance, FTS opens into a low-lit room with a long, slender counter—a slice of a tree. Art covers the walls, with paintings from collective members and friends reaching up to the ceiling’s edge, and the staircase bannister has been sculpted into a surreal head by friend Marcella Jean Cavaliere. The front room is a lounge space with yellow floor cushions tracing the floor’s perimeter. Friends are encouraged to stop by any time and stay however long. The house is like a kaleidoscope, its colors and shapes seeming to twist and transform. Perham has called the house an “ongoing art piece that has its foundation in place,” an installation that shifts and changes in response to the growth of the artists within it.

The first person I meet at FTS is Andy Orio, currently apprenticing with Perham. A black and white photo of Perham’s mentor, Danny Williams, with his mentor is framed in a nearby hallway. “He taught me and I’m teaching him,” Perham later says, gesturing to the photograph and then to Orio. “There’s a lineage to that which I think is super important. It’s tradition and there’s longevity to it—like tattoos.”

A colorful striped hallway with lava lamp floor tiles leads to Perham’s studio, the only one on the first floor. Inside, he’s working on a whale painting inspired by two years he spent tattooing in Hawaii. The fireplace displays a collection of skulls; in the summer, he says, the sun pours through the chimney, making them glow a shade of orange. His dog, named for his hometown, rests on the floor. Perham also spent two years living out of a van and traveling the country, working at tattoo shops along the way. “I’m lucky. I can find work wherever there’s an electrical outlet,” he says.

Upstairs are the studio spaces of FTS collective members Alex Harris, Raquel Cood, Jodi Longo, Steve Cacioppo and Mikki Bedol. In a room at the top of the staircase, Harris sits at a table, his own dog by his side. “I was 17 years old when I learned how to tattoo,” he says. The opposite wall is covered in colorful illustrations and a mounted buck. Behind him, tattoo stencils are taped in arrangement.

Across the hall is Cood’s lilac-painted studio. A green velvet couch with an embroidered floral center cushion sits in the corner. Down the hall, Longo tattoos a couple, the steady buzzing of her gun creating a vibration through the plant-accented room. On the back of her shirt, Mona Lisa cradles a lounging white cat.

Tattoos can make a person’s skin a map of their memories, marking transitions, honoring losses, recording the ideas and symbols that meant and mean something. Naturally, then, FTS is a place filled with stories. “We’re each getting one half of a wolf’s face,” Steph, who has just finished getting her first tattoo, says. “Growing up, raised Native American, my spirit animal was a wolf.” Her partner lays in the tattoo chair, his arm outstretched and motionless under Longo’s bright light, revealing, in black ink, the wolf’s other half.

Nearby, in his own studio, Cacioppo tattoos a client under the glow of a ring light. Three insects are framed on a mustard yellow wall behind him. “I came here and did a guest spot and never left,” he says. In an industry where it seems more are leaning into the solo route, he’s enthusiastic about the collective model. “No one wants to be part of a shop anymore, at least from what I see, but I love it,” he says.

At the end of the hallway is newest member Bedol’s studio. For most of his time as a tattoo artist, Bedol would work in a tattoo shop for a couple years, learn all he could, then keep moving. “It’s nice to feel settled for once,” he says.

True to form, FTS’s website describes the gallery as “(y)our home.” “We try to be more a community rather than just a shop and business,” Perham clarifies. “I don’t like to be a businessman, but I don’t mind being part of a community.”

FTS Gallery
2965 Main St, Stratford (map)
(203) 908-3555
Instagram | Contact the Artists

Written and photographed by Lindsay Skedgell. Images 1-5 feature George Perham, Alex Harris, Jodi Longo, Steve Cacciopo and Mikki Bedol, respectively.

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