Alma Mater Tattoo Project

MC senior Brittany Miller displays her new tattoo as part of the Alma Mater Tattoo Project. Photo courtesy of Brittany Miller.
MC senior Brittany Miller displays her new tattoo as part of the Alma Mater Tattoo Project. Photo courtesy of Brittany Miller.

In September 2015, Assistant Director of Residence Life and MC alum Ben Wicker started searching for volunteers to participate in a unique group tattoo project that would involve a total of 39 participants.

The project, entitled “Orange and Garnet, Float Forever – The MC Alma Mater Tattoo Project,” breaks down the lyrics of Maryville College’s Alma Mater into small phrases and distributes the phrases among those interested in participating. Phrases from the chorus like “float forever” and “Hail to Maryville” are assigned to three people for the three times the chorus is sung. Phrases from the verses such as “crowned with cedars,” “smiles and tears” and “proudly stands” are assigned to one person.

By volunteering and accepting their assigned phrase, participants agree to get a legible tattoo of the phrase and to submit a high quality photograph of the tattoo once it is finished.

“I didn’t want to limit people because tattoos are such a personal thing; they’re such a permanent thing,” said Wicker. “I wanted people to be able to be creative with it and to get something that they wanted. I just said it had to be legible and it had to be something people were willing to take a picture of.”

Wicker said that he broke lyrics up so that almost every phrase contains a word that carries some weight or meaning. For many people, the specific phrase they accepted carries a personal significance. Wicker, who has the phrase “Wake the Echoes,” said that he chose the phrase because of the meaning it had for him.

“When I think about ‘wake the echoes,’ I think about the thousands of people who have come before me and the rich history of this place,” he said. “I think of the Anderson Bell ringing on special occasions and the celebration we all have several times each year.”

Wicker first heard of similar tattoo project in 2004 as an RD in South Fla. One of his RA’s participated in a project done by Shelley Jackson called the “Ineradicable Stain: Skin Project.” The project consisted of 2,095 participants who each tattooed a single word of her short story. Jackson’s project stuck with Wicker, and when he began considering a new tattoo, he came up with the idea for “The MC Alma Mater Tattoo Project.”

In the initial stages of the project, Wicker created a Facebook page and a survey to find out how many people would be interested. From there, Wicker did some research to make sure he had a correct copy of the Alma Mater, began breaking the song into sections and then sent out a participant interest form.

Though Wicker is an employee of Maryville College, he said that he is organizing the project as a dedicated alum of the College.

“This is just me trying to find a neat way to bind people together in their appreciation of the college,” said Wicker.

Interest in the project has been high. Since the project’s beginning, around 59 people have expressed their willingness to participate. The people selected to participate represent a diverse population of the Maryville College community. Athletes, alums and former Homecoming Kings and Queens have all participated thus far.

For several, this is their first tattoo. Among these people is senior Brittany Miller, who chose for her first tattoo to be part of the project because of the significance behind it.

“I’ve wanted to get a tattoo for a while, but I wanted something with meaning,” said Miller. “I felt like being a part of this project was something that was meaningful and showcased the experience I’ve had at the College.”

For others, this tattoo is yet another meaningful and artistic addition to their bodies.

“All my tattoos have a story and represent times in my life that have shaped who I am,” said MC junior Alyssa Hughes. “I joined the Alma Mater Project because MC is the place where I have been able to find myself and who I want to be….I love the fact that even though this group is so diverse, we all bleed orange and garnet. This is a project that reminds us that even though we are pretty awesome on our own, we are even greater all together.”

Once the project is complete, Wicker hopes to host a gallery that displays photographs of the tattoos in sequential order. Though the project has taken longer to complete than he originally planned, he hopes for it to be finished sometime in the spring. With little background knowledge in photography, Wicker says that one struggle he will need to overcome is his lack of knowledge on producing high quality photographs and locating the funds with which to do it.

As of now, at least 22 of the 39 participants have gotten their tattoos, and Wicker said that the remaining 17 participants are planning to get their tattoos soon. Anyone interested in following the project’s progress can join the Facebook page “Orange & Garnet, Float Forever – the MC Alma Mater Project.”

Though spaces for this project have been filled, Wicker said he would “fully support” anyone who wanted to do a similar project.


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