Willow Sparrow has much to share. Every tattoo that Willow Sparrow sees or recalls brings out a different story. She prides herself on people whose botched tattoos she has turned into something beautiful — and there are a lot.
“Someday I will be gone and this is my legacy,” Sparrow said.
Sparrow can be found combing through photographs on her smartphone and with a tiny hot pink digital camera. She spends many minutes at a time. Her shop, The Frontier, is filled with prints of her tattoos.
Sparrow’s skin is covered in colorful tattoos. A long flowing, sheer, white, flowing piece is worn over her teshirt. She also wears some jeans ripped to go on a hike around the property with Red Bolero, her horse.
“He was gifted to me because he was on a kill lot and he had until Monday of this week,” said Sparrow last week. “… he was going to be slaughtered for food.”
The horse’s name was originally “Red,” but Sparrow decided he needed a more elaborate name and now calls him “Red Bolero.” The horse was previously left out to pasture, and his feet fell into disrepair.
“My husband has to drive an hour and a half just to pick up this special grass for him that is not sweet, because what it was is the person — whoever had this horse — turned him out to a pasture where he was able to go out and graze on fresh green grass,” Sparrow said. “You can’t do that with horses. If they eat the fresh green grass, it causes too much sugar like a diabetic and it causes their feet to get really bad.”
Sparrow has been tattooing since 1997. The Frontier is her 3rd tattoo shop. She attended Carole’s Cosmetic Tattoo Studio and School, has taken thousands of courses for specialty techniques and done over 17 completion courses.
Her first shop, “Two Chicks Tattooing,” was in Oregon City and she booked her clients three months in advance. Sparrow opened Two Chicks Tattooing and also trained twelve other artists. By the time she moved and opened her second shop, “Voodoo Tattoo,” in Portland, Sparrow was booking clients six months in advance.
Sparrow was diagnosed with cancer in 2011 and her life changed dramatically. Sparrow was also diagnosed with cancer in 2011 and then hit by a drunken driver. She was not able to tattoo for a while.
“He ended up busting my jaw and he had no insurance, so I really had to dig myself back from the grave to be healthy and come back to work,” Sparrow said. “… “…I was extremely successful. I was making about $150,000 a year and then after the car wreck, about a year later … I ended up getting cancer. I was given six months of life expectancy by them. I didn’t do all their protocol and I ate healthy and got myself back to good.”
Sparrow plans to use her newest shop to fund Red Bolero’s care and will only take a couple clients each week.
She referred to it as the “little secret on the hill.” The shop is located in rural Chehalis, up a large hill, then down a gravel road. It is about the same size as a shed but it has a porch that leads up to it and an adjacent blue bench.
Inside, Sparrow has a single tattoo chair and walls filled with various items — a large painting of a mermaid, a wooden cross and a framed photo of her with Sarah Jessica Parker.
Jean Putscher, a client and now friend of Sparrow’s, also sat in the shop. The two met through Sparrow’s husband, who works at River Bend Pet Center and took care of Putscher’s St. Bernard. When Putscher, 71, heard about The Frontier, she booked an appointment for permanent makeup — tattoo eyeliner and lipstick.
Putscher had tried to obtain cosmetic tattoos twice at a second shop but was unsuccessful in both instances.
“When you get to be as old as I am, you can’t see in the mirror all the time,” Putscher said. “I wanted to look nice, but yet I didn’t want to have to do all the work and everything. It was much easier to be permanent. The older I get, the easier it is for me.”
Evaluating Putscher’s permanent eyeliner, and explaining where the previous artist messed up, Sparrow explained that many people come to her with bad tattoos.
“I’ll tell you what it was,” said Sparrow, gently touching Putscher’s eyelids. “She actually had gone to a person that probably watched a video — because in Washington that’s all you have to do. A cosmetic video can be purchased, viewed and opened up for business. When I was in Portland, people from Washington used to come so I could fix their makeup.”
Putscher came in to do touch-ups on another tattoo that day. While Sparrow wasn’t the original artist, she enhanced a little sun on Putscher’s wrist.
“This is a little girl that I babysat for,” Putscher said. “She had a heart condition and she passed away. I used to sing ‘You Are My Sunshine’ to her all the time, so that’s the sunshine.”
Sparrow redid the tattoo and added music notes, rewrote the little girl’s name and added a few other touches. Sparrow and Putscher had a conversation that afternoon about their personal lives and history. The two of them said they’ve become close friends within the last few months.
Sparrow spoke spoke about fixing gang-related tattoos — “People shouldn’t have to suffer because of something that they may have done at a younger age” — and she spoke about forgiveness. The tattoos and people’s interactions with her, she said, are what she will leave behind.
“Most of the people that I have tattooed, we are like a family,” Sparrow said. “We end up really, really bonding together.”
Owner: Willow Sparrow
Location: 288 Hewitt Road, Chehalis
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