Ask anybody from the Omaha metro area about the connection between Sweden and permanent body ink, and it’s likely you’ll get Stieg Larsson and his trilogy of bestselling novels (since made into movies) starting with the “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” as your answer.
Ask again after this weekend and the Omahan might tell you something else: Jens Arnkvist and Big Street Tattoo. Well, anyone that attends The Best in the Midwest Convention, that is.
Arnkvist, whose Big Street Tattoo shop hails from Ornskoldsvik, Sweden, will appear at this weekend’s convention (Friday-Sunday at the Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs) alongside about 200 other tattoo artists. Ten percent of shops represented at the show will be from Omaha, 15 percent will be regional, and the other 65 percent will be considered “national or international.” Arnkvist’s 5,000-mile trek from Sweden to Omaha certainly qualifies Big Street Tattoo as the event’s most international of the international.
“I think it’s going to be a lot of fun,” Arnkvist said in an interview response sent from his iPad (or, as it read in his native tongue, “skickat fran min iPad“). “I’ve never been to this part of the United States so I’m really looking forward to it. I actually don’t make a lot of work-related appearances but hopefully that will change.
BST has also done conventions in Asia and at several locations across Europe.
Arnkvist was hired as an apprentice in Orskoldsvik — his hometown of 30,000 located on the eastern coast of Sweden off the Gulf of Bothnia — by the time he was 21 and opened Big Street Tattoo in 2008. He is 29 now. (Coincidentally, or maybe not, author Larsson’s hometown of Skelleftehamn is located just 90 miles north of Ornskolsvik along the east coast off the Gulf of Bothnia.) Arnkvist cites horror themes and portraits as his preferred style of tattooing.
While he is looking to bring some of Sweden’s tattoo culture to America at The Best in the Midwest convention, Arnkvist said tattoos in general are probably a more accepted practice here than they are in his home country.
“A lot of the older generations still think (tattoos) are for sailors and criminals only. But it has gotten a lot better over the last 10 years. Also, there are fewer of us here and we don’t have walk-in shops the same way you do in America.”
Arnkvist said that while he’s not sure exactly what to expect, he’ll be rollling with the punches at Ameristar while — believe it or not — enjoying weather that should feel relatively warm to him.
“I’m the only one from Big Street Tattoo going. The rest of them are staying home in negative 26-degree temperature,” he said. “But I hope to get to do some fun tattoos and have a great time.”
Check Arnkvist and the rest of his crew out at BigStreetTattoo.com, although much of the text on the site is in Swedish. A better bet may be to track them down on Facebook/bigstreettattoo.