Eternal Alchemy Tattoo
Meet some of the luminaries of New Hampshire's burgeoning tattoo industry
Eternal Alchemy Tattoo
215 Concord St., Peterborough
Tattoos are like “decorating a house,” says Jane Abernethy, a tattoo apprentice at Eternal Alchemy in Peterborough. “It’s fun to decorate your body and make it beautiful.”
This sentiment — that getting a tattoo should be an enjoyable, creative experience — translates to the atmosphere at the shop, owned by Heather Smith. The 1,200-square-foot space is bright and clean, filled with plants, comfortable seating and fantastical art that nods toward Smith’s style of tattooing.
On the day photographer Thomas Roy visited the shop, Smith was working with a client who had already spent many hours under her needle and will likely spend many more in the future to complete his full sleeve. The client (who asked to remain anonymous due to the nature of his job) had to wait nine months for his first session with Smith, but she seems to have been worth the wait. Now, they have the easy, trusting rapport you’d hope to build with someone who’ll be adding permanent art to your body over the course of months or even years.
As its website proudly proclaims, Eternal Alchemy Tattoo is run by women artists. Owner Heather Smith has been tattooing for 23 years, starting right around the same time the Massachusetts ban on the practice was lifted. When Smith started her career, she worked in a larger, mostly walk-in shop with seven or eight other artists who would rotate to take clients.
“I would get sent out as the next artist up for whoever walked in, and people would not want me to tattoo them because I was a female,” Smith recalls. Clients would want
a “really badass tattoo,” and had doubts that “this little blonde thing” could be their supplier. “I got overlooked a lot,” she says.
The experience helped cement Smith’s desire to open a studio where everyone feels welcome.
“I really want a space where women don’t feel intimidated to walk in,” Smith says. “When people come in, the first thing they tell me is, ‘Oh my god, I feel so comfortable here.’”
Today, the comfortable, cozy Eternal Alchemy studio is appointment-only, with two artists — Smith and Abigail Blunt — who specialize in custom, illustrative styles of tattoos.
Nature themes seem to be the common thread throughout the wide variety of designs on the shop’s Instagram (@eternalalchemytattoo): Black and gray roses surround a skull-topped pile of books; a turtle swims among the fish as part of an in-progress leg sleeve; a colorful frog enjoys a cup of coffee on top of a toadstool.
Blunt specializes in smaller, patchwork-style tattoos, while Smith prefers to work on a larger scale. “If somebody wants a humongous project and wants to dive in for a few years and bang out a couple of sleeves, that’s what I do,” she says. Right now, Smith is booking out about a year in advance; Blunt is booking out a couple months at a time, mostly because she’s working on smaller projects.
Smith started out in the art world, working in graphic design when the owner of a shop asked if she wanted to learn how to tattoo. “I said no five times,” Smith says. “How stupid was I?” According to Smith, we can credit an improvement in the quality of modern tattoos to the fact that more and more trained artists are getting into the industry.
“When I first started, you had people tattooing who weren’t ‘artists,’” she says. “They would have flash, they would copy the flash, and they would color it in. It was more a skill than an art form. Over the past 20 years that’s completely flipped. People that have gone to art school are going into tattooing. The type of work now is just so different than it used to be because of that. You can get these massive custom back pieces that are just true works of art.”
To get a tattoo is to take home a piece of art that no one else can ever own.
“People aren’t buying original artwork anymore, really, besides snooty people in galleries,” she says. “But for your average artist, there’s no viable option to make a living.”
By getting a tattoo at Eternal Alchemy or anywhere else, you’re helping support artists. As Smith puts it: “Tattooing, I feel, is the last hand-done, commercially viable art form left.”
This profile appeared as part of a larger article in the September 2023 issue of New Hampshire Magazine highlighting some of the wonderfully talented tattoo studios in the Granite State.
To learn more about the other studios, click here.