Photography by Julie Saari
Your Mom’s Tattoo Atelier
I walked into Mike’s business, a cold call. I had nothing but an idea. I nervously explained how I wanted to collect the stories of people who live in Bemidji; people who loved living here. Because, everyone has a story, I want to know what they are- don’t you?
Mike listened, smiled, and agreed. He agreed to the project. I had no site, I didn’t even have my camera with me. Just off the street. I came into his shoppe and was made right at home. A man gifted in his work using few words, rather speaking through his inks. An artist.
You have a story, everyone walking the streets of Bemidji has a story, so does he. What is it? Join me, Julie Saari as we find out.
A hometown boy who left, only to return to the very town that had once stifled him. Leaving showed Mike who he was. Returning allowed him to become that person. This is the story of Michael Wiltse:
I am originally from Bemidji, MN. I was born in the mid-seventies and grew up in the downtown region of Bemidji. As a child I never really liked Bemidji that much, I suppose it was because of youth dreams of other places. As I went through High School my desire to leave this town was at it’s peak. I was eager to travel on and see what else the world would offer. As I moved away there was a sense of relief that finally I was free to fill my life with new experiences. All of which I had in my mind to someday tell my childhood friends, not understanding that I would have to return in order to tell them. After a stint in the service, heavy romances, tattoo apprenticeship, mixed with a bit trouble, I finally came home to be married to a beautiful Finnish girl named Erja Taskinen. I have come full circle to move home, to start a family, and a business. I reached an event horizon in my life and began to see my hometown with a mature light. I find Bemidji is filled with the comforts of my past and the past of my peers. I looked at the town as a whole family of different types of people. All of us trying to make a living in one of the coldest places in the United States I can truly say that I am honored to be a part of the heritage of Bemidji. We may not like each other sometimes, but we won’t let you down in times of need.
I would like to bring to Bemidji the time honored American Style of tattooing, as well as a progressive movement in the arts for the region. Bemidji is filled with artists and it’s wonderful to see more culture in the region. With all the worries that people have it is nice to know that Bemidjians can express themselves in a more positive manner. Since tattoos have become mainstream Bemidji has become home to three tattoo shops. During my years of tattooing, I decided that when I would open my tattoo shop it would be in Bemidji. I figured the home field advantage would be a good place to start a business. After tattooing in Ireland for a year, I met my future wife Erja. When I moved home I began to get my business on the start, so that when Erja arrived we could get married. My business was named Your Mom’s Tattoo Atelier. I thought of the name while working in Duluth at Tats by Zap, and I figured it would be perfect for the town of Bemidji. People love their mom, I love my mom, and so I named it after everyone’s mom. Plus you can tell people you received a tattoo at Your Mom’s. So hopefully I will make in the annals of Bemidji, MN as the guy that brought progressive art scene to Bemidji. You Never Know.
Written by Michael Wiltse
Mike’s Time Line:
Ireland – 2005 where he met his future bride
Return to Bemidji –2007
Opened shop Jan. ’08
pics by Julie Saari _______________________________________________