Friends, family try to get late tattoo artists preserved skin back

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Friends and family of a deceased tattoo artist are trying to get his skin back.

When Chris Wenzel passed away in 2018, his family had arranged to preserve his heavily decorated skin as a memento.

They kept the fragments at the tattoo shop he founded in Saskatoon, Electric Underground.

The shop went bankrupt last year and Round Table Management, the property company, seized what was inside the store – including the skin fragments.

An online fundraiser has been started in an attempt to get the shop’s contents back.

“It’s a reminder, it’s kind of comforting as well to have a part of him here still,” Wenzel’s niece Nicole Ballantyne said of the preserved skin.

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“I know a few people in the family still refer to the tattoo preservation as Chris.”

Ballantyne, speaking over Zoom, told Global News the family was heartbroken to lose the tattoos.

Leanne Thompson-Hill, a family friend, said the goal of raising $35,000 includes the roughly $25,000 owed to the property management firm and an outstanding balance for Wenzel’s headstone.

She said any extra funds raised will be used to create a scholarship in Wenzel’s memory. She stressed any money donated will go to paying what is owed or, potentially, the scholarship. She said none will go to the family.

Thompson-Hill said she has communicated with Round Table Management on behalf of the Wenzel family and said the firm had only discussed returning all the property, not components of it.

“He’s our friend. We want him back,” she said, in a phone interview.

A lawyer who works in bankruptcy said the firm’s seizure of property is common practice and legal – even if skin is involved.

“It’s called a distress for rent,” Grant Richards said.

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“So the landlord walks in, seizes everything that belongs to his tenant, and sells it,” to make back the money owed them, Richards explained, speaking over Zoom.

In a follow-up email, he said provincial legislation prohibits the sale of human tissue but that the governing Act excludes skin.

“Looks like you are free to sell your skin, so [the] landlord should be able to seize and sell [the tattoos],” he wrote.

In an emailed statement, Round Table Management chief operating officer Rick Court said the firm had been sensitive to the family and the tragedy they faced when losing their dad and husband and when facing a pandemic.

With regards to Thompson-Hill, Court wrote they “don’t know who this person is and legally we can only deal with the original owner.”

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Ballantyne confirmed Thompson-Hill’s efforts are supported by the family. At the time of publication, the GoFundMe had collected just shy of $3,000.

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