Deep Roots Inspire Community: the artistic upbringing of the Boulder Tattoo Project’s Chelsea Pohl

Chelsea Pohl is a kaleidoscope. As the project manager of the Boulder Tattoo Project, Chelsea has her eyes set on many artistic ventures and isn’t set to stop anytime soon.

“She snatches the right opportunities when they arise,” her sister, Alyssum Pohl, said. “But she’s patient. That’s why she’s successful.”

Chelsea paints dinosaurs. She paints blood spatters, cats and critters. She is also a photographer and a sculptor. She teaches art classes, writes and illustrates children’s books, owns a tattoo studio with her husband Vinny and raises two daughters named Tiger and Phoenix (her tattoo studio, Claw and Talon, is named after them).

She manages all of this while successfully bringing the Boulder Tattoo Project, a spinoff of the original Lexington Tattoo Project, to its new home. The project, which calls itself “A love poem to Boulder—tattooed onto the bodies of people who call Boulder home,” is a community-wide creative initiative that begins inking after Halloween.

“I feel like Boulder is pretty conservative when it comes to the arts,” Chelsea said. “I just want to find a way to crack open the rigidness when it comes to that…I’m working on it.”

Deep roots lead to sharp peaks

Chelsea moved to Boulder when she was 17 years old, but she knew she loved it long before. When she was 13, the view of the Flatirons while driving over the hills of Route 36 for the first time was a moment she would never forget.

“I had a premonition I would live here one day,” she said.

Life would take its turns, leading to more travel and a life in Boulder; she was accepted into Naropa University at 16. The people she met along the way would be the catalyst to a life of art, innovation and inspiration.

Chelsea grew up in Kentucky, in a family some might consider less than rigid. At seven, her parents took her, her sister and two kittens sailing between the East Coast and the Bahamas for a year.

“When you’re living on a boat, you don’t have anything around you,” Alyssum said. The sisters were each other’s playmates. “This translated into our adult lives—whatever you’re motivated to do, do it. No one’s going to do it for you.”

The Boulder Tattoo Project

The Lexington Tattoo Project, a collaborative effort by artists Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova, is an ongoing project combining the elements of poetry, tattoos and photography.

“Chelsea is the first person to invite us and this Tattoo Project artwork to another city besides our town,” Gohde and Todorova said.

Chelsea learned about the project through her sister and decided to bring it to her adopted hometown of Boulder. She went back to Kentucky, where Gohde and Todorova invited her to take part in the Lexington project.

“That just made sense,” Chelsea said. “I’m the bridge between the two cities.”

Her husband, Vinny, did her tattoos in Lexington. “Deep Roots” now rests on each of her ankles.

“The tattoo projects are all about community,” she said. “They are about showing love of one’s city. It’s not just about tattoos. The project is about people’s connections to their city and how they express that.”

Chelsea will be conducting a demographic survey at the tattooing to understand the backgrounds of the participants. All kinds of people get involved with the project, and many get their first-ever tattoos.

“People are really excited,” she said. “People are saying, ‘This feels bigger than me.’”

The Boulder Tattoo Project will not only consist of tattoos. The multimedia collaborative will feature the poem “Boulder Zodiac”, with words and phrases of the poem shown as tattoos, photography of tattoos and their owners, a music score by Gregory Alan Isakov, and a film combining all of those elements.

“Chelsea has set an extremely high bar for the people that we will work with in other cities,” Gohde said. “She has been twice the collaborator we hoped for and Boulder is so lucky to have her.”

The first project event will be held from 3-11 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 31 at the Laughing Goat on Pearl Street.

Contact CU Independent Guest Writer Lauren Maslen at

CU Independent

The CU Independent, or CUI for short, is the student news outlet for the University of Colorado at Boulder. We cover news, sports, politics, opinion, arts and entertainment and more. Our mission is to provide news and commentary that's for students and by students — about the things we care about.

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