Valencia Miller is showing St. Louis a different kind of tattoo shop
Valencia Miller, or “Miss V” as she’s known to her clients, is the first Black woman to open a tattoo parlor in St. Louis. She’s been in the tattoo business since high school, and now she’s bringing her shop, Onyx Dagger, to the city’s Lafayette Square neighborhood.
Miller has made a name for herself in tattooing — she’ll even be a featured artist on the first sailing tattoo shop, which launches next month. But her journey into tattooing truly began when Anna Paige Funk and Winona Martin of Skin Deep Tattoo in Hawaii took her under their wings.
“On top of being my mentors and best friends, the most amazing women I've ever met,” Miller said on Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air. “And a few apprenticeships that I'd gone through were difficult being a woman. And then on top of that, a woman of color back then — 15-plus years ago — it was not the easiest scene to find a consistent apprenticeship.”
After spending time learning under Funk and Martin at the oldest tattoo shop in Hawaii, in 2014 Miller moved to St. Louis for school. A year later, she opened up her first shop, Ink Gallery, in Benton Park.
“I’m very grateful for the neighborhood taking me in as they did, because at that time, it was even harder to open a tattoo shop,” she said. “And it's still a process, don’t get me wrong.”
Miller put the shop on hold when she went back to school, but reopened in Benton Park a few years later under the name Onyx Dagger.
After a few years, she felt the shop had run its course. Then an opportunity came about for Miller to move her shop to the first neighborhood she lived in in St. Louis: Lafayette Square.
Now, Onyx Dagger is set to have its grand opening in its location on Park Avenue in March. The new shop will be part tattoo parlor and part gallery that showcases local artists’ work.
Miller said she faced some initial pushback from Lafayette Square lifers and elected representatives, but her unique vision for her shop won them over. That includes the neighborhood association’s vice president, who stopped by to see the shop for herself.
“During that conversation, she said, ‘First I just want to tell you, I was not that thrilled to hear there's a tattoo shop coming, in particular, this visible on Park,’” Miller said. “And she's like, ‘But I got to say, I'm inside and it really looks like a gallery. I can't even tell it's a tattoo shop.’ And I said ‘Well, that's the intention.’”
Miller said the front half of her space is devoted to showcasing the work of local artists, many of them her friends from grad school years at Wash U. The space in the back is where tattooing will take place — by appointment only, and by just two or three artists.
She added that though some residents deeply value preserving the history of Lafayette Square, she’s been able to show them that a tattoo shop doesn’t have to take away from the neighborhood’s history.
“Lafayette Square, as we know, is a very beautiful historic area. Especially now, people are trying to preserve everything in keeping with other parts that are starting to modernize,” Miller said. “But I explained to them, tattooing has changed drastically in the last two decades. It's not what people assumed.”
What: Onyx Dagger Grand Opening
When: 7-10 p.m. March 12
Where: Onyx Dagger, 1917 Park Ave., St. Louis, MO 63104
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Kayla Drake. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.