NEW ORLEANS — If you drive down North Rampart Street, I’m sure you’ve noticed the colorful building on the corner of Rampart and Ursulines. That building is the landmark AART Accent Tattoo and Piercing Shop, the oldest tattoo shop in Louisiana run by tattoo pioneer Jacci Gresham.
Most women wouldn’t share their age but Jacci wants you to know she is 75 years old and after more than 45 years, she’s still creating beautiful works of body art at AART Accent.
That’s all expected to change later this year when the shop shuts down. In an Instagram post shared during Carnival, Jacci announced it would be AART Accent’s last. Their building has been sold and the new owners plan renovations. So, after 46 years, the shop is closing.
“It’s going to be an end to an era,” says Jacci.
Jacci Gresham moved to N.O. from Michigan in 1976
An end to the shop that’s just as legendary as Jacci Gresham. Jacci is the second-longest running female tattoo artist in America and the first Black woman to break into the tattoo industry. “I'm about 20 years ahead of everybody else as far as time goes,” says Jacci.
A Flint, Michigan native, Jacci moved to New Orleans from Detroit in 1976. She and her then partner Ajit Singh had an idea to open a tattoo shop.
“This opened up in March 1976, and just this room was the tattoo shop.”
It was a new frontier for Jacci who was now entering an industry that was mostly white, male-dominated and one she was unfamiliar with.
“He’s the one who knew how to tattoo, I didn’t.”
She also didn’t have any tattoos, so she set out to change that. Calling well-known tattoo artist ‘Ed Hardy’ or as Jacci refers to him: “The Ed Hardy.”
“He was one of the best in the country, but he was known for doing body suits and things like that,” says Jacci. “I was pretty scared of getting a big tattoo because it was unacceptable at the time. He did a Phoenix on me, teeny tiny bird like that.”
“I felt like in order for me to learn, especially then, I had to dedicate some of my skin to learning and I did.”
Jacci's first tattoo and opening the shop cemented her position in the industry, one that also lacked Black tattoo artists.
“Black people have always wanted and gotten tattoos, but generally they were hand stuck tattoos. Going in the shop, we just weren’t comfortable.”
Which is why Jacci made it a point to make everyone feel at home when you entered the doors of AArt Accent.
Her good friend Faye, who stepped into the shop 40 years ago and hasn’t left since, would agree.
“I bought my kids to get a tattoo and I just loved her spirit. She has a blessing spirit and so feisty. I loved every minute of it,” Says Faye.
“Everybody didn't accept it, it was not accepted, and she taught people how to accept it. She taught people how to work on black skin.”
Her growth as an artist led to beautiful works of body art and over the course of several years word began to spread of the eccentric tattoo artist in New Orleans.
“You know a lot of stars have come through here. Alicia Keys, Tim McGraw.”
As for Jacci's future she's still getting tatted. Her latest work of body art is dedicated to her parents, a tattoo she says her mother likely wouldn't approve of.
“My Mom wasn’t happy that I put tattoos on me, but I feel that if you’re in the industry you have to be part of that industry,” says Jacci.
As for the shop, she says it is the end of an era but the revolution of one of New Orleans favorite characters. A character who will forever be tattooed in the hearts of many.
“For 46 years I’ve been here, you know. I think it will be missed but it seems like everything changes in time.”
Ms. Gresham says she hopes to remain open at least until August,1 of this year.