MADISON - Teena Merlin and Myria Wade have pooled their talents together to create Gypsy Sisters Tattoo on Main Street in Madison.
The shop, located across the street from the West Virginia Coal Museum in the office space previously occupied by the Coal Valley News, is clean and vibrant with color and relaxing decor providing a creative backdrop for any ink-seeking customer to absorb.
"It all happened so fast," said Merlin. "Within two weeks of speaking to the landlord, we were setting up, painting and decorating. There has been a lot of work to be completed but a lot of fun to be had as well. We're excited."
The sisters live in Lincoln County. Merlin - a Navy veteran - came to West Virginia after a stint living in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas. Wade left the sunny beaches of South Florida to make the Mountain State her home.
"We really love it here," said Wade. "The people are so friendly and warm and since we've opened the shop, people greet us every day. It's been amazing."
Both women are creative and driven, but each brings her own set of skills to the table. The decision to become co-owners of a business came naturally. The sisters have worked in other shops but felt it was time to take control and step out on their own.
"This business is very man driven," Wade said. "It is hard enough to get into on its own, so we wanted to create something that made us happy and explore our own artistic talents within this industry. We just went for it."
Merlin said there was a theme in mind for decor, but the real selling point for the business is their work, which they have many impressive examples of in the shop.
"We were adamant that the shop should reflect the aesthetics of who we are and we wanted artists to walk in feel that they wanted to be a part of it in some way," she said.
The women grew up in different parts of the country. They shared the same father and say that as they became adults, they discovered that they needed to be near one another.
They have traveled extensively and have spent time living in Europe, which they believe adds to the breadth of their artistry. They identify as best friends.
"I studied multimedia and have always enjoyed all forms of art but I always wanted to get into the tattoo industry," Merlin added. "I spent some time doing henna designs and it was a slow transition into this."
Mehndi is one form of body art originating from the Indian subcontinent in which decorative designs are created on the body using a paste created from the powdered dry leaves of the henna plant.
"I enjoy flowing lines and henna-inspired lines, but I'm pretty well rounded in other styles," Merlin added.
Her sister draws on nearly three decades as a hairdresser and a life spent producing abstract art.
"I just recently starting getting into water color and I enjoy watercolor tattoos," said Wade. "I like to free form and create unique pieces for each person. I really love tattoos that are gray scale and organic pieces. I can do the other things, but that is my passion. I like the notion of art on a living canvas. For someone to be proud to walk around with a piece that I have done gives me goose bumps."
The business provides space for local artists to display their work on a 30-day rotation on the shop's walls.
"It gives people a chance to view their work and provides opportunities for the artists," added Merlin. "We want the artists to display their work and they receive 100 percent of the commission. We really want to do a well-organized art walk right here in Madison."
Based upon a Tarot reading, the shop will create a customized tattoo for customers on request.
"We call it a 'spirit tattoo' and we talk about the direction you want to go in your life and it is symbol or a reminder of the things," she said. "It brings the spiritual aspect of it and the art together in one piece. To me, this cannot be separated."
One aspect of the business that the owners have made clear is their policies regarding sanitary precautions and cleanliness.
"We only use prepackaged disposable products so there is nothing that will be reused on your body," said Wade. "The industry has really changed and there is no need for that anymore. We have a service that comes and pick up our sharps and (we have) procedures in place ensure that our space is sanitized after each customer. It is absolutely second nature to us at this point to think this way, so it is a very natural thing. We take pride in our work and our shop and it is going to be clean. We are both blood borne pathogen certified. Personally, if I walked into a shop and it wasn't sanitary, I'd turn and walk out - so we take this very seriously."
The shop will employ an apprentice who will learn the ropes of the business.
"There is a gate-keeping element to this business and we'd like to absolve that," said Merlin. "(Other tattoo artists) don't want to train any artists because they'll go out and open up shops. We encourage that. We want to empower artists."
Traditionally, tattoo shops may have garnered reputations as seedy or havens for the underbelly of society to congregate. Today, with more and more whitecollar workers and college students and everyday people boasting ink under their dress shirts, those ages-old notions are disappearing.
"With this being a small town we were concerned about that but we really need to give a shout-out to the City of Madison," Merlin said. "I've never felt more welcomed in our whole life. It has been amazingly welcoming."
Visit Gypsy Sisters Tattoo at 350 Main St. in Madison or call them at 304-307-2442. The business can be found on Facebook. An open house/ribbon cutting is scheduled for 2 p.m. on June 22.
Reporter Phil Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter