RIPLEY - The art of tattooing has been practiced for many centuries in various cultures, particularly in Asia, and spread throughout the world.

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, tattoos were as much about self-expression as they were about having a unique way to identify a sailor’s body should he be lost at sea.

Today, in America, the art form is still all about self-expression and individuality. Once a mark of blue-collar pride and rebellion against the system, more and more white-collar members of society are inking up. You may be surprised if you were to roll the sleeves of professionals across the country.

Reality television has certainly softened the perception of the art as tattoo artist are conveyed as passionate artists and not kings of a dark counter culture where the traditional values of the American family are challenged.

Tattoo artist Rich LeMay of Ripley’s Church Street Tattoo Studio holds a bachelors degree in computer science but has forged a path that is most satisfying. He has seen the image of the industry change of the last decade and a half.

“Over the last 17 years, I think I have inked just about every walk of life. I think that speaks volumes about the public perception of people who have tattoos,” said LeMay who proudly speaks of his children Jackson and Psyron.

When owners Mike Staats and Jennifer Steele-Staats decided to open their shop, they wanted to create a unique atmosphere that was more professional and accessible than other tattoo parlors.

“We had a vision for a business that was involved in the community and image conscious without losing our artistic identity,” says Jennifer who is a West Virginia University graduate and spends her days as an Autism Specialist at Ripley High School.

Mike, who is as personable and friendly as his wife agrees and added, “We have children and we work hard and value family time like everyone else. We are just passionate about tattoos and art in general.”

The couple, who have known each other since sixth grade, opened shop in June and has had positive feedback from the community.

“Mayor (Carolyn) Radar is very supportive and she came in and spent time talking with us after we opened the doors,” said Jennifer.

The couple lives with Jennifer’s children Isabella and Zander on their farm in the Sandyville/Leroy area of Jackson County. Mike is a Ravenswood High graduate and Jennifer was a Lady Viking of Ripley High.

While they may be traditional in some of their values, their taste in housing is like nothing else in the county.
“We are in the middle of a five year plan to build our own earth ship,” says Jennifer.

An earthship house is made up of rammed earth and tires. The tires are stacked (staggered) like bricks. Each tire has earth pounded into them until firmly packed. Once the tires are packed, they are very difficult to move and form quite a dense wall. The walls are load bearing and provide thermal mass, which is an important attribute to any energy efficient house. Thermal mass stores heat and releases the heat slowly. This keeps indoor temperature constant while outside temperatures fluctuate. Once the walls are in place, the walls are quite often plastered over and appear very similar to an adobe style house.

“We acquire tires from various towing companies and we offer to remove tires from property around the county. We observe all of the laws in the storing of tires and their removal, said Mike.

While their new home is being built, they live in a house on their farm.
The shop is quite a site, as it is spacious and inviting with vibrant colors, a leather sofa and a reception desk where Jennifer does much of her paper work.

“We want people to be comfortable and have something to look at while they wait,” adds Jennifer.
Mike also serves as an artist for the shop as does Tabitha Hudnall, a student at WVU Parkersburg who after an evening class reported to the shop for some scheduled work.

“My schedule is tight but we make it work. This is a great place to work and learn,” she said.
Mike’s room is equipped with a vintage parlor style tattoo chair and decorated in classic artwork and antique furniture and lamps.

Rich’s work space is more modern and cutting edge. All of the artists use as much disposable equipment as possible and make cleanliness and sterilization top priority.

The shop boasts an autoclave, ultrasonic cleaner and an impressive dating system for virtually every moving part in the shop. The workspace is clean, organized and inviting to the customer.
“Working here feels like family. I can’t say enough about the organization and attention to detail in this shop,” said LeMay.

Justin Johnson of Specer sat in Rich’s chair on this night and explained why he is a repeat customer.
“I trust Rich (LeMay). His work is amazing and my experience has been great.”

Rich has self-published two books on sterilization and cross contamination. To this date, it has 550,000 downloads. The book can be downloaded at and many other online sources. The books in the shop filled with his personal artwork are tributes to his creativity when working up a mock-tattoo on paper for a customer.
LeMay’s resume has brought in customers from as far away as California, Tennessee, Florida and Virginia who also seek his expertise on microdermal and transdermal piercings and implants.

“We are always amazed when someone flies to West Virginia and comes to Ripley for a Tattoo or piercing,” said Jennifer.

“It is a testament to Rich’s work.”

You can visit the shop at 123 South Church Street or call 304-685-3363 for an appointment or consultation. Visit their Facebook page at Watch Lemay at work in a video at