In the run-up to Mayor Michael Hancock's final State of the City address on July 18, Councilwoman Stacie Gilmore, who would be introducing Hancock at the podium, asked her husband, Scott, whether she should wear a sleeveless outfit.
"Is it going to be disrespectful?" she recalls asking her husband, who serves as the deputy executive director of Denver Parks and Recreation. It wasn't so much her arms that she was worried about, but the extensive array of tattoos on them.
Scott Gilmore's response: "You spent more money than most shirts that people are going to be wearing on your arms. It's who you are. Are you going to hide that?"
"No, I'm not. I'm not."
When Stacie Gilmore, who represents the far northeast area of the city on Denver City Council, got up on stage that day, she was wearing a sleeveless top with a stenciled floral design. And where the shirt ended, the artwork took off, with each arm sporting a riot of tattoos including a fairy, an elk woman, mushrooms, butterflies and flowers.
While Gilmore didn't always have these incredible tattoo sleeves, she has been into tattoos for a long time.
Gilmore, 52, was raised in Brush, in eastern Colorado. "I grew up in the ’80s, so, Metallica, Ozzy, Mötley Crüe. And I've just always loved the art form of tattoos," she says.
After that, Gilmore kept getting tattoos, some on her back, others on her thigh, a few on her arms. She worked with artists she liked, in both Denver and Los Angeles. Some of the tattoos paid tribute to important occasions in her life. But it wasn't until 2020 that Gilmore went from having a few tattoos to becoming really inked up.
That February, celebrating her fiftieth birthday and a year's recommitment to sobriety, Gilmore was ready to tat up her arms. She went to Sandi Calistro, a local tattoo artist with twenty years of experience who also paints murals and produces fine art.
Gilmore had seen Calistro's work on Instagram and became a fan immediately.
Calistro describes her style as "illustrative" and "feminine botanical," with lots of "feminine figures."
Tattoo Dumond, at 140 West 11th Avenue, Calistro began by tattooing Gilmore with a large, beautiful and mysterious-looking fairy on her right upper arm.
"It's like Mother Nature," Gilmore says. "I've always grown up with an affinity for nature and wildlife and spirits. I mean, I'm a wildlife biologist."
After that, Gilmore was ready to continue the project down her right arm. "I knew I always wanted to get a hand tattoo," she says.
So in January 2021, Calistro tattooed the rest of Gilmore's right arm, including her hand, using a floral design. And in subsequent sessions, Calistro added butterflies, birds and other fairies, along with plenty of flora and fauna.
"I feel like she found something she liked; she loved the process of getting tattooed," says Calistro. "And I feel like once she started doing it, she just wanted more and more."
That April, Gilmore went back to Calistro for an "elk woman" on her left arm. Calistro added other characters and designs, too, including an owl this past May, tattooing Gilmore through her left hand.
"She’s always been very respectful about giving me complete creative control of the ideas that she’s come to me with, because she knows that’s how I thrive as an artist," Calistro says.
Gilmore has also gotten identical tattoos with her two daughters.
While her arms drew plenty of attention at the State of the City speech, those sleeves have been noticed elsewhere.
"It's amazing the amount of city employees that have pulled me aside and said, 'Councilwoman Gilmore, I got this tattoo with my mom, and I wasn't going to get it because I was like, 'Is that professional? Can I hide it with my watchband?' And then I was like, 'Well, but the council president has hand tattoos,'" says Gilmore, who was elected to council in 2015 and served as council president from June 2020 until last month.
Adds Calistro: "Someone so high-profile to wear tattoos like that without a care speaks volumes about where the tattoo industry has come, because that definitely never would’ve happened when I started tattooing, especially for a woman."
The councilwoman, who is running for re-election next year, plans to get a big mermaid that wraps around her leg sometime in the near future. In the meantime, she's just enjoying her latest artwork.
"Where we're at right now is that women don't have full autonomy over our bodies. And I feel like my tattoos are a way for me to reclaim who I am," Gilmore says.
Calistro concludes: "Tattooing plays a major role in keeping your own sense of self. Like, you owning your own person. I feel like she’s going to get way more. I don’t think she’s done."