71-year-old Jacci Gresham has been tattooing for over four decades, and has been based in New Orleans since 1976. Her shop, Aart Accent Tattoos & Body Piercing, is Louisiana's oldest continuous tattoo business.
Gresham travelled to San Francisco to get inked by Ed Hardy for her first tattoo, at 30-years old. Now, she has “too many to count.”
"Black people should have been in tattooing a long time ago," Gresham said. "My professional accomplishment is to help other people learn the art of tattooing… and to perfect it."
At the time of Aart Accent’s opening on North Rampart Street, the Flint, Michigan native was one of only five practicing female tattoo artists in the United States, and the only woman tattooing in New Orleans. Studying architecture and engineering in college, Gresham was honored as a Pioneer of Female Tattoo Artists in 2011.
Through Gresham’s tattooing career — and life — she has approached discrimination with fearlessness and grace. While she had been kicked out of a bar in Chalmette because of her skin color, she had tattooed a member of the KKK at 29-years old, saying, "I don't think it was hard, because I was young.”
"Black people had tattoos in New Orleans, but most of the time they were hand-stuck," Gresham said. "Part of the problem is, I think, the proprietors were unfriendly to us. When you went to a studio and this biker was sitting there, you could tell he wasn't happy doing that."
Gresham’s humble beginnings started with her move to New Orleans from Detroit, as a laid-off engineer for General Motors.
"I had no plan. I had no thought of ever being a tattoo artist... ever," she said.
With no regrets, Gresham enjoys tattooing at Aart Accent, with the shop motto being: "Look Better Naked — Get a Tattoo."