Powderhorn tattoo parlor is a flesh-and-blood example of neighborhood color


On the corner of 31st and Bloomington, two guys walk out of the adjoining building, one with a piece of cellophane taped to his arm. Underneath the plastic black ink is etched into the pink, swollen flesh of his forearm in the shape of a spade. It’s yet another business transaction for tattoo artist Shane Wallin.

From his shoulders to his wrists Wallin is covered in ink. Intricate shapes and creatures twist along his right bicep while detailed images of muscle and bone make up his left forearm. At the top of his left wrist, before the tattoos end, a small yellow circle interrupts the chaos of his arm. Inside the circle a pink baby floats peacefully in utero with little fingers and toes floats detailed. A mixture of rough and tender, his odd ink work reflects his double role as tattoo artist and father.

A symbolic tribute to his work is imprinted on the right side of his ribs: an unfinished image of a tattoo gun.

“I enjoy what I do,” Wallin said. “I didn’t intend to start my own business, but it pays the bills, and as far as I’m concerned it’s better than most other jobs out there.”

When Wallin started Twilight five years ago, his shop was just another tattoo place in Minneapolis. But since then it has become anything but ordinary. The buildings distinctive interior reflects Wallin’s artistic style. A pop-art painting by Wallin covers an entire wall and a sleek, black couch invites guests to sit. From the ceiling to the floor smaller paintings and photos done by Wallin are scattered about the orange, blue, purple and green walls. Circling Wallin’s work area are tribal masks, an inspiration for his well-known tribal tattoos.

This brick building attracts more than skull-and-crossbones customers; it is what City Pages calls a “quaint neighborhood watering hole,” and is an important part of the Powderhorn community.

“I took a building that had been sitting vacant and turned it into a thriving business, which was good for the neighborhood,” Wallin said. “It is such a diverse neighborhood, as far as the Heart of the Beast and the Mayday Cafe. It”s really a grassroots neighborhood and Twilight fits right in with the artsy crowd.”

In 1999, Wallin bought the abandoned building from a bank that had repossessed it. He was looking for a place to live that had more of a commercial setting or warehouse feel. With no ideas of starting a business, Wallin bought the building when the price was low.

After setting up his residence, he decided that his eight years of tattoo experience were enough to start his own business and began the long process of acquiring permits and getting city approval.

“I had to change the zoning designation on the property from residential to commercial, which took about eight months, and then I had to talk to bureaucracy,” Wallin said. “It started out on a neighborhood level and then it went to the planning commission. Eventually I had to get permission from property owners around the building and go to the public hearings. This part of starting the business was probably the biggest pain in the ass.”

David Howe is grateful that Wallin stuck with it. Howe, a materials engineer student at the University of Minnesota, has gotten all four of his tattoos at Twilight.

“It just clicks with him,” Howe said. “Some tattoo artists can’t do a tattoo without putting some of their own background in it, but Shane can do anything you want. I told him basically what I wanted and he kinda shot out some ideas and together we kinda made it what it is, which, as far as realism goes, is really sound.”

Howe’s newest tattoos took over six hours to complete and are on located on one of the most painful parts of the body to tattoo: the ribs. Starting just below his armpit and ending at his hip bone, Howe has a matching set of Salvador Dali elephants on each side of his ribs. One is a reddish-brown color, the other a bluish-green.

Others are grateful for Wallin’s talents for different reasons.

Shonda Allen, Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association’s community organizer, appreciates businesses like Wallin’s because they encourage the community to invest in itself.

“The money is revolving and it’s staying in the community through the businesses,” Allen said.

As with many similar service businesses like barber shops and hair salons in the Powderhorn neighborhood, Twilight Tattoo is the type of business residents want to see, Allen said.

“This is a really artistic community and so people don’t ask ‘Why is that tattoo place there?’ because it just fits and belongs,” Allen said.

Since he started in business the neighborhood has changed for the better, Wallin said. A big factor in this change, he said, has been the growing Hispanic community.

“This area is the Hispanic hub of the city,” Wallin said. “It has become a thriving community, with the Mercado Central and all the construction on Lake Street. There aren’t as many boarded-up buildings.”

Allen said it is very important for the community to have businesses like Wallin’s because they bring in a whole new vibe. A new person usually comes with the energy and excitement of the neighborhood, she said.

Working for Wallin, artists Johnny and Matt Kolling bring more energy with their artistic designs and funky style. Wearing a wiry beard, leather work boots and a small hunting knife at his side, Johnny looks more like a woodsman or lumberjack than the stereotypical tattoo artist. Matt is younger and louder, with chains, large ear plugs and a black Mohawk.

One of Johnny’s customers, Eric Buck, has 12 tattoos, ten of which were done at Twilight. He said Twilight is more “lively” than other tattoo places he has been to and that the work is more detailed. Johnny did two of his tattoos, a cross and a Gaelic word meaning “brothers.”

Shane has done Most of Buck”s tattoos, spending more than 12 hours on just his right arm where a lion, an angel and a lily flower are woven together by water-like designs to form one large tattoo.

“He is a quiet, mysterious dude who knows his shit,” Buck said. “He is rough on the edges, but as far as tattoos go he can do anything.”

Outside the shop, a neon green and purple sign hangs above the red door, which hides behind thick iron bars. More bars cover the blue windows, a reminder that the neighborhood can be a rough place at times.

Inside the building, on the red retro countertops, various awards from tattoo contests like The Best of the Twin Cities 2004 are scattered about.

“One of my biggest achievements is simply being open for five years,” Wallin said.

But perhaps his most important achievement is found among all the shiny awards. A picture of Lucy, Wallin’s second child, with pigtails and a red Popsicle, is taped to one of the trophies. Most returning customers know her by sight, along with his other two daughters and wife, Toni, who are always stopping by to visit “daddy.”

Immersed in artistic flare, Twilight is not the typical tattoo parlor. But then again Powderhorn Park is not the typical city neighborhood, Allen said.

“I’ve heard Twilight is really good at what they do,” Allen said. “They have a good reputation, and although I didn’t get my tattoo there, I would prefer if people went to someone in the area, like Twilight, than to some place across town.”

Buck agrees, but for different reasons.

“Most tattoo artists can create good tattoos,” Buck said, “but in terms of art, I think they are better than anyone else in the area. Shane and Johnny are the reason they call tattoo artists ‘artists’.”

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