SASKATOON — When Chris Wenzel knew he was going to die, he had an unusual request for his wife.
The well-known Saskatoon tattoo artist asked that his ink-adorned skin be removed and preserved before he was buried. He wanted his kids and grandkids to see his life’s work long after he was gone.
“He thought that would be really cool,” his wife, Cheryl Wenzel, said Wednesday. “I thought, that’s different but, yeah, that’s cool.
“I don’t care what it takes. I’m going to get this done for him.”
Her 41-year-old husband, owner of Electric Underground Tattoos, died after an illness on Oct. 28. Before his death, he discovered Save My Ink Forever, a U.S.-based company that preserves tattoos.
His wife contacted the company which had never worked on such a scale before. There were only a few parts of her husband’s body that weren’t covered in artwork and he wanted all his finished tattoos preserved.
Kyle Sherwood, the company’s chief operating officer, went to Saskatoon to surgically excise Wenzel’s skin from 70 per cent of his entire body and preserve it with a special formula in a frame.
The entire job will cost about $80,000 and take about three months.
Cheryl Wenzel was in the room with Sherwood when he began removing the skin.
“I was able to point out which tattoos (Chris) wanted.”
Wenzel’s passion for tattoos was evident from a young age when he inked his aunt at nine years old, she said.
“He just fell in love with it. He fell in love with art and had such a passion for tattoos,” she said. “He would say he was a slave to the needle because he loved to tattoo so much.”
Her husband’s skin art will eventually hang on the wall of his tattoo studio, Wenzel said.
“You can hang a picture on a wall. You can do so many different forms of art,” she said. “A tattoo is something that has been done for hundreds of years. It’s just preserving it.”
Sherwood said his company has preserved hundreds of tattoos, but the work he’s doing on Chris Wenzel is the largest-scale preservation in North America. He removed seven designs from the artist’s back, chest, legs and arms.
“This is pretty ground-breaking,” he said.
Sherwood doesn’t normally travel to do his work, but he didn’t trust anyone else to do the job.
Preserving her husband’s artwork is a fitting tribute to a man with a “great spirit,” Cheryl Wenzel said. But she added it’s more for their children, nine and 13, who are already showing promise following in their father’s footsteps.
“This tribute means the world to them,” she said. “This is something they knew dad wanted and it’s something that dad’s going to get.”
— By Chinta Puxley in Edmonton and Ryan McKenna in Regina
The Canadian Press