Almost a year ago, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign had a veteran tattoo-service exhibit named Symbols of Service. This upcoming spring semester, the Booth Library will be showcasing a similar exhibit named Design of Duty.
Elizabeth M. Heldebrandt, Public Relations Director, said she is hopeful this will unite veterans that have service tattoos even if they never talked about it before.
“The library has always had a strong appreciation with veterans and we have presented other people’s programs with veterans before,” Heldebrandt said. “The idea of focusing on their tattoos is something we have not thought of before, which is why we like the idea from the U of I.”
Bradley P. Tolppanen, Dean of Library Service, and Brandi M. Gard, Library Intern and Senior English major, along with Heldebrandt are currently helping with the exhibit planning.
The Booth Library faculty is seeking by late September or early October any on-campus or Coles County veterans with tattoos that would be willing to share their stories and the stories behind their tattoos which will be featured in the exhibit.
“We hope we get a various wide range of ages from college students to Vietnam War veterans, Iraq War veterans, World War 2, Korean War, or are in the military service,” Heldebrandt said.
The Design of Duty exhibit will start out in the Booth Library at the start of the semester in January and will be a travel exhibit later in the spring.
“We will contact some of our local libraries in Coles County or in Lake Land College or in the area if they like to host the exhibit,” Heldebrandt said. “We will be glad to loan it to them for however weeks at a time they would like.”
Flyers have been sent out to the Cole’s County community including the local Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legions.
Gard said not a lot of veterans get the opportunity to share their story or feel uncertain sharing, but hopes the veterans will share their stories.
“Hoping that with a physical image like a tattoo, we will be able to tell these people stories,” Gard said. “They have powerful experiences and powerful kinds of lives, it will be interesting to see that and really open up.”
When veterans come into their interviews, Heldebrandt asks they bring a service photo to see what they looked like during service even if it is 30 or 40-years-old. The veterans who participate will also have their photos taken by Beverly J. Cruse, Senior Photographer, to show what they look like now.
Heldebrandt said some of the interview questions will focus on basic information such as their name, what branch of military they served, the dates, if they served in a war or overseas campaign. Veterans will be asked specific questions about their tattoos as well such as what kind of tattoo they have, the meaning behind it and why they chose to get that precise tattoo.
Gard said she has written a lot of publicity for the exhibit and will be one of the people to interview the veterans about their tattoos along with Heldebrandt.
“It will really impact the story that they have behind their tattoos because tattoos are really meaningful,” Gard said. “Body art is a really powerful statement anyway, because you are altering your body. It will really show their sacrifice and things like that.”
Heldebrandt said she has known veterans with tattoos related to their service because of where they served, friends they have served with or because of something that might of happen to them.
“I hope that once this exhibit is put together on display, it gives people who come to see it a new appreciation for their veterans and their patriotism and fact that (veterans) got a permanent symbol of that in some fashion form of a tattoo to remind themselves of what they did and how they served our country,” Heldebrandt said. “We can never honor our service members too much.”
Veterans who wish to share their tattoo service related story may contact Beth Heldebrandt at [email protected] or 217-581-6064.
Valentina Vargas can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]