Tattoo parlor expands on art offerings with Herbert Cooper Gallery

Cap City Tattoo recently expanded into the former plant shop next door, creating an artist's market that builds on its long-running exhibition series.
A portion of the Nix Comics display at Herbert Cooper Gallery.
A portion of the Nix Comics display at Herbert Cooper Gallery.Andy Downing

For Alli MacGregor, the owner of Cap City Tattoo, art came before inking, and has remained an integral part of her shop from its inception. 

MacGregor has long hosted exhibitions within Cap City, located at 74 Parsons Ave., including the current display from artist Rob Jones. And this past weekend, the business expanded into the former plant shop next door with a new artists market, dubbed Herbert Cooper Gallery, which features the wares of more than a dozen Columbus artists, including Ken Eppstein of Nix Comics, collagist Emily Morgan of Lovely but Dead, and Daphnia Ceramics, a ceramics studio founded by Emily Cline. (The expansion also includes the first brick-and-mortar space Mr. Seams, a custom embroidery shop tucked into the rear of the new gallery that operates as an independent business.)

“So many galleries have been pushed out of the Short North, and now they’re being pushed out of Franklinton, with rents over at 400 West Rich going up. Artists, we’re not all Bansky, and most of us don’t make a ton of money,” said MacGregor, who drew inspiration from art markets and pop-up vendor events in developing Herbert Cooper, a nonprofit aimed at giving local artists an affordable way to reach potential buyers. “Artists just get fucked over all the time. … I’ve been in enough art shows, and you have to pay just to be in them, and then some of them give you less than a 50 percent split. And I understand there are operating costs, but ... I’m tired of artists being taken advantage of.”

Besides, MacGregor added, there’s value in surrounding oneself with art, which can serve as a constant source of beauty and inspiration both for shop workers and anyone who visits the parlor, even if it can take some coaxing at times. “We have the art walks down here in Olde Towne East and we’re constantly trying to get people in,” she said. “I do feel like some people are a little intimidated by us being a tattoo shop, so they don’t want to come in and look at the art, or they don’t want to bring kids in, and we’re always like, ‘No, c’mon in!’” 

MacGregor developed a love of art early in childhood, recalling how she won her first art contest at age 3 for a painting she did on the window of a shop in Maine. A fascination with tattoos followed when her older brother returned from a stint in the Army a few years later with his first bit of ink, sparking a lifetime affair with the form. “After that, I was drawing on everybody,” said MacGregor, who throughout childhood would ink temporary tattoos in pen on friends and family members alike – despite the early misgivings of her father.

“By the time I was 12, my dad was like, ‘If you ever get a tattoo, I’m going to rip your head off your shoulders,’” MacGregor said, and laughed. “So, I didn’t tell him when I got my first few, and he hated it until I started to make money on it. And then he grew weirdly supportive of it and told me he was proud of me and what I’d achieved.”

With Herbert Cooper, MacGregor is also able to foster a charitable side she traced to the deep well of empathy that developed within her following the death of her father – a trait that went missing in the years prior, evaporating in the grief she felt after her mom’s passing. “But when my father died,” she said, “it was like the floodgates opened up.”

In the years since, Cap City has hosted art exhibits in support of numerous charities (the Wonder Doug exhibit slated for April will double as a fundraiser for Star House), and Herbert Cooper was created as a means of driving more support for the causes MacGregor holds dear, in particular at-risk youth and rescue animals. (MacGregor has six dogs, plus occasional fosters.) If all goes well, down the line she hopes to establish a pair of scholarship programs with Herbert Cooper: one aimed at therapy training for rescue dogs and a second designed to help pay for children's arts education. 

“Art is therapeutic, and it can mean a lot to people,” MacGregor said. “Some people have never picked up a pen, and they’ll be like, ‘I can’t draw.’ But just because you can’t draw doesn’t mean you can’t make art. There are different ways to approach art – jewelry, glass blowing, stuff like that. So, we’d like to reach out and help people, especially the disenfranchised and those who maybe don’t have access to this kind of stuff, and get them access. … It’s about bringing more art into the world and believing maybe that can help inspire kids.”

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