How the Boulder Tattoo Project inked and linked a community

Line 77 of “Boulder Zodiac,” a poem written by Anne Waldman for the Boulder Tattoo Project, reads “you settled here.” The phrase rings true for most participants of the living-art project, especially founder and manager, Chelsea Pohl. Everyone involved had a word or a phrase from Waldman’s poem inked onto their bodies as an ode to Boulder.

One of the more than 200 Boulder Tattoo Project participants lays in a tattoo bed in the living-art project's primary location, Claw and Talon Tattoo. (Courtesy Lauren Maslen)
One of the more than 200 Boulder Tattoo Project participants lays in a tattoo bed in the living-art project’s primary location, Claw and Talon Tattoo. (Courtesy Lauren Maslen)

“The rest of the world is just not as perfect,” Pohl said. “It’s contradictory. It’s easy to live here, yet it’s challenging. It’s challenging to become an adult here, but it’s a desire.”

Pohl originally hails from Lexington, Ky. She started the Boulder Tattoo Project as an offspring of the original Lexington version. Her husband, Vincent Bachert, welcomed the task of inking over 200 participants in the couple’s studio, Claw and Talon Tattoo, with the help of several other Boulder tattoo artists. The artists were essential in depicting Boulder’s sense of community on project participants’ skin.

“I think if I’m going to ask people to commit so permanently to their love for this city, I better be clear that I love this city just as deeply as I’m expecting them to,” Pohl wrote earlier this year in her “Love Letter to Boulder.”

Tom Klenow is no stranger to ink needles. His arms are home to full, colorful tattoo sleeves. Originally from Fargo, N.D., Tom said that recently moving to Boulder gives his tattoo and the project more significance, “in the sense that I feel more at home here than I ever did in North Dakota.” Klenow chose his project tattoo phrase, “Up the Boulder,”  from Waldman’s poem.

Lisa Roberts got her tattoo on the side of her right foot. It was her first.

“I’m getting ‘who’ — you can make it mean anything,” Roberts said. Though not originally from Boulder, she has lived in in the town for over 25 years.

Kim Goldman got “over surface” just below her left collarbone.

“It’s a unique phrase and a unique spot to get it,” she said. “It will have meaning for me someday.”

Father and daughter Boulderites were tattooed together on the project’s second day. Sean Held got the phrase “keep scales aligning” on his shin, while Sierra chose “go asymmetrical” along her thigh.

“Asymmetrical means nothing’s the same. Be unique, be yourself, be awesome,” Sierra said. “It’s hidable, but also show-able.”

“I always work hard at being the best person I can be,” Sean said of his “scales” tattoo. “I’m balancing back and forth between the things I need to do and the decisions I need to make.”

Despite the constant flow of people waiting in Claw and Talon, the artists maintained their excitement.

“Their attitudes are amazing,” Pohl said. “They’re getting the energy of the people. They’re juiced on it.”

During the project, word of mouth spread as participants began posting photos, blog entries and poems on social media.

“I cried out of joy, because that’s what makes it worth it – when people share their stories,” Pohl said. “I’m hoping we’ll get more of that.”

To participate, project volunteers had to meet certain criteria, including considering Boulder “home” and “love Boulder.”

“We were told Boulder is a very transient town,” said Kremena Todorova, one of the founding artists of the original Lexington project. Todorova said she and Kurt Gohde, her partner in Lexington, spoke to many project participants who are Boulder transplants.

“It gets harder to stay here as you get older because you have more responsibilities,” said Pohl, who is not originally from Boulder. She added, “I definitely feel like it’s my home, though.”

Contact CU Independent Guest Writer Lauren Maslen at

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