Juliette Hannan’s arms, décolletage, and feet are covered in colorful body art, some telling stories and others simply chosen for their beauty.
There’s homage to her dogs. A chrysanthemum adorns her foot. She lifts up her pant leg to reveal a dinosaur. Hannan and her husband Ram—known as Fat Ram—own Fat Ram’s Pumpkin Tattoo in Hyde Square; he's a tattoo artist and she manages the shop.
Open since 2001, shortly after tattooing was legalized in Massachusetts, the shop recently relocated in May to an expanded space a few doors down. Hannan showed off the space, painted a vibrant shade of pumpkin—a nice palette to showcase examples of the shop’s tattoo artists’ work—and talked about changing attitudes toward tattooing, the shop’s name, and doing business in JP.
How have things changed in the industry since you opened 10 years ago?
My husband had already been tattooing at that point for at least 10 years. He used to have to travel to work because it had been illegal [in Massachusetts]. It became legal in 2000 and right when it became legal, I started looking.
When I was looking for spaces to open our shop back then, the potential landlords would just hang up on me when I would say it was for a tattoo studio. It’s so different now. When we found that [first] spot, I called and got the landlord’s wife on the phone and managed to keep her on the phone and was able to talk to her. Everyone else would just hang up.
So, it really was just like, whoever didn’t hang up on you.
Yeah. Well, that was the start. And then we really loved this location.
Did you still have to fight any misconceptions?
Oh definitely. Even the way that the city of Boston zoned it. When we rented that space and started renovating it, and it was a good 10 months that I had to go through the red tape at the zoning board because we had to get a variance. Tattoo shops can’t open in regular commercial shopping districts in Boston, even now. You have to get neighborhood approval. It has to go through the BRA [Boston Redevelopment Authority]. Even when we moved here, I had to get another variance. We couldn’t just transfer it over. But this time, it was so much more smoothly. . . The Department of Neighborhood Development loaned us money to build this shop.
Tell me about doing business in JP.
We really wanted to be in JP. I think we looked a little bit in the South End but we lived in JP and really wanted to be right in our own neighborhood. We lived in JP from 1996 until we bought our house in Roslindale in 2006. We love Hyde Square, we love this area.
And you also support local organizations.
One of my passions is animal advocacy and rescue. We have a good connection with the MSPCA. Last Halloween we had a 10-year anniversary party at the Midway. I organized the whole benefit for the MSPCA. We got Sam Adams to sponsor it , and Mt. Washington bank. And we raised $2,000 for shelter. I really loved doing that and using position at the shop to be able to. It’s like, why shouldn’t we.
Whenever we can we try to do that sort of thing. One of our guys had the idea for a Veterans Day special: palm-sized tattoos for some low price, and donate all the earnings to the VA hospital.
Tell me about how the interest in tattoos came about for yourself and Ram.
With Ram, he just always was an amazing artist, all through high school, and then he went on. He was a skater—this was the late ‘80s. He became interested in tattooing back then, got his first [professional] tattoo when he was 17 and he started tattooing his friends at that point. He apprenticed under the tattoo artist, Fred Smith III. He’s a really good friend and Fred comes and works here like every other Saturday so it’s really nice that it’s come full circle. He’s Ram’s mentor. Ram also went to museum school for three years and then he just got too busy tattooing.
He’s really an artist at heart.
Oh yeah. All of our [tattoo] artists are. At least two of our artists have art degrees.
Is that unusual?
It used to be more unusual but it’s not so much now. I think that there are probably a lot of kids in art school who say: Oh, this is something I could really do to support myself.
What’s unique about your shop?
My husband was always known as a custom tattoo artist where people come to him with an idea and he can draw whatever it is they want and do that tattoo. For many, many years, even coming into the ’90s, people still had the idea that with tattoo shops, you’d go in and pick something off the wall. There are still plenty of shops like that but I think we’re really known for being a custom shop. And not just my husband now anymore, but all of our artists. They all have different styles and so they’ve built up reputations and clientele and it’s really word of mouth. The work really speaks for itself. People are much more knowledgeable now, too. They can look at tattoos and they can tell a good one from a bad one.
Along with hosting visiting artists in the shop, your artists also travel?
We have this whole network of friends and other tattoo artists from around the country. It’s fun to visit other cities and do guest spots. It’s a good way for them to travel and work in other places and network.
I imagine it’s a source of inspiration.
It’s a change of scenery. It’s a lot of pressure, I think, to have to produce artwork on demand. So I think getting a change of scenery is really good so that they don’t get burnt out artistically.
How would you describe some of the styles represented by your tattoo artists?
Several of our artists excel at traditional style tattooing. It’s kind of graphically simple, bold, really clean colors, and line work. Justin does really amazing portraiture, portraits of people and animals that are just so realistic. Rus does really awesome skulls and flowers. They’re all really good… it’s more just a personal thing. People can look through their books and say, “Oh this is the kind of art that I like.” Ram, he can do anything, but he also excels at very technically challenging tattoos and cover ups… really detailed line work but covering up things that are hard to cover up.
What’s the story behind the shop’s name?
My husband’s birthday is on Halloween and he loves Halloween. His name is Ram and Fat Ram is his tattoo name. He’s not fat but he always says he can grow into that.
Fat Ram took some time to answer a few questions as well.
What was your first tattoo?
I did it myself when I was 15, on the bottom of my foot. It was a tattoo of Spiderman’s head. One of my grandfather’s good friends was missing an arm and he had half a tattoo and you couldn’t tell what it was. . . Ever since then I was interested in tattoos. I got my first [professional] tattoo in 1988 from Fred Smith III . . . It was a flaming jack o’lantern on my foot for my 17th birthday.
What do you like about tattooing?
As a fan of tattoos, I enjoy the expression that’s involved. It’s a medium and art form that people get to decide about their appearance. I really enjoy the collaboration with clients—by listening to them and their desires, I can execute a design I would never think of otherwise.