Newton tattoo emporium reopens with desire to help non-profits

St. Mary’s Tattoo Emporium in Newton tattoo artist Bailey VanCura.
St. Mary’s Tattoo Emporium in Newton tattoo artist Bailey VanCura.(St. Mary's Tattoo Emporium Facebook page)
Published: Apr. 24, 2023 at 11:29 AM EDT
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NEWTON, N.C. (AP) — Jester masks stare down from the corners of the room at customers entering St. Mary’s Tattoo Emporium in Newton. The walls are covered in bizarre sideshow décor, and the open doorway behind the counter is adorned with colorful, multi-patterned drapes pulled open to reveal a room painted purple, covered from floor to ceiling in macabre art.

The renovated shop conjures images of Ray Bradbury’s tale of a sideshow in “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” which features an antagonist covered from head to toe in tattoos. Fortunately, St. Mary’s is not home to The Illustrated Man. In sharp contrast to Mr. Dark’s tattoos of his victims, one of the shop’s owners has the word “kindness” tattooed across his knuckles.

St. Mary’s Tattoo Emporium recently reopened under new co-owners Mary Geraldine and Steven Busey. Geraldine and Busey worked for the shop’s previous owner, Margaret Moose, for seven and five years, respectively.

Geraldine’s tattooing style leans towards neo-traditional, which she said modernizes elements of traditional American tattoos. Where traditional tattoos feature solid blocks of color, neo-traditional tattoos tend to have more depth and texture created by shading techniques.

“I do a lot of illustrative style (work), comic book style and botanical illustrations,” Geraldine said. “I’m really big into lines. More recently, I’ve started trying to do some black and gray portraits, too.”

Cover-ups and watercolor tattoos are two styles Geraldine said she does frequently, by request, but she most enjoys animals and any piece where she can create a filigree effect.

Busey said he most often does black and gray illustrative work that he described as spooky and whimsical pieces featuring bones, mushrooms or pumpkins.

Illustrative realism is Busey’s specialty, he said. “It’s like taking realistic elements and throwing a kind of cartoonish style on it,” he said.

Busey said he receives few requests for the styles but he is inspired by Studio Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki’s art, as well as Yoshitaka Amano, who designed a number of characters for the popular video game series, Final Fantasy.

Changes to the business

Geraldine said the duo fully remodeled the inside of the store on top of repainting and redecorating. Geraldine and Busey plan to redo the outside of the shop, as well.

Geraldine said one of the goals is to become more involved in the community, and one way she hopes to do that is through fundraising for nonprofit organizations.

“Before COVID happened, we had several (fundraisers) lined up,” Geraldine said. “I’ve previously worked with Options Victims Assistance, the domestic violence shelter in Morganton. … Now that things have started loosening up, I would like to get back into doing fundraisers. I have an ongoing offer to that shelter in particular, that if they get residents who have abuser’s names or trafficking tattoos, that I cover them free of charge with a referral. I’d like to do a lot more in the community as far as nonprofit (organizations) go.”

Geraldine and Busey said that, before the pandemic, they successfully ran a fundraiser for NC PAWS cat rescue that raised several thousand dollars. They do not recall the exact amount.

The previous owner, Margaret Moose, has a reputation for her work in the tattooing world, which includes opening Newton’s first tattoo shop, Geraldine said. Changing the shop’s name allowed Moose to retire and helped Geraldine and Busey build their own reputations in the community, they said.

The name “St. Mary’s” is a combination of Geraldine and Busey’s names, they said.

“An abbreviation for my name, being Steven, would be St.,” Busey said. “And I jokingly got called Saint Steven in high school for quite a while. I guess it was just my calm and kind demeanor. Mary can be a bit more on the robust side. She’s very passionate, (and) I am too, it just comes out in different ways. She’s more abrasive; I’m more subtle, so it’s a good mixture of the names.”

Another change is that the shop is not doing piercings at this time. Geraldine said the reason is that they have not yet found a piercer.

Advice for a first tattoo

Busey said it is important to be well-rested, hydrated and to bring a snack. Tattoo sessions can last several hours. Geraldine said it is important to research artists.

Researching artists is a matter of reviewing portfolios, searching social media and often Google reviews, they said. Many people seeking a tattoo artist also ask their friends, they said.

“A lot of artists will work on one person, then their brother or sister will come in. And then, the friend of that brother or sister comes in, and then suddenly you have this network of 20 people that all originated from this one little name tattoo, or a heart or something,” Busey said.

Both said that not only is it important to assess skill level, but to assess the artist’s personality and whether or not it meshes with your own.

“It’s very much a shared experience,” Busey said. “So you want to make sure you get along with the person who is working on you.”