An eagle traces its wing across the stomach as it perches on the naval, a rose pops out on the shoulder, and a snake crawls up the forearm, entwining itself around an anchor.
In a mere minute and a half, Robert Michael Black - a mustachioed, bare-chested male mannequin - becomes a gallery of tattoo art.
"I gave the mannequin a name because you can work that intimately with a man if you don't know his name," Gail Schlaifer, a free-lance animator, was saying as Robert Michael went through the tattoo-tracing cycle once more.
Schlaifer added the lively touch of animation to the 1920s-vintage tattoo parlor in the new Hall of Maritime Enterprise at Smithsonian's Museum of History and Technology.
The million-dollar-plus hall opens to the public today with 12,000 square feet of exhibit space to tell the story of America's commercial fleet and merchant marine.
It has ship models, a towboat pilot house and an operating ship engine room, a full-sized section of mast and rigging from a colonial tobacco ship, a wholeboat with harpoons, and skylights and paneling from two great luxury liners when ships were the only way to cross the Atlantic. And there are even film clips from Hollywood disaster films including "Titanic," "Poseidon Adventure" and "Captains Courageous."
Then there is the tattoo parlor - included in a section of the arts, crafts, and amusements of merchant seamen.
Schlaifer worked out the animation to trace tattoo designs on the mannequin to enliven the display of vintage advertising posters, tattoo parlor furniture, and equipment.
"I would draw a line and then step back and snap the camera," she explained. "The Smithsonian gave me a whole stack of tattoo designs to work with. Normally there are 24 frams to a second with animation. But I found this way too fast, and it's eight frames to a second with the tatto tracting except for the pop-outs like the rose on the shoulder."
She became so fascinated with tattoo art, Schlaifer says, that she searched out a tattoo parlor over an adult book store in Arlington.
"The proprietor was very proud of his designs and wanted to have me choose one but I declined," she said. "In an old book store, I found a book on tattooing titled 'Pierced Hearts and True Love.'"
To pass away the boredoom on long trips at sea, seamen did develop other arts besides tatoos.
A major collection of scrimshaw will go on display for the first time the new hall. Most of the delicately carved whale teeth date from the 1840s through 1880s, the glory days of the whaling industry in New England. There is one hand to telescope inset with strips of whale bone inscribed: "Made for dearest Rebecca from Samuel Sept. 1867 Look ye out to sea for me from atop the walk ye see top sails come ahome to thee."
Many of the exhibits were donated by the maritime industry. The Tobacco Institute even searched out some inferior tobacco of 18th century grade for the display of the three-masted tobacco ship Brilliant. Not to be outdone for authenticity, the Smithsonian produced Richard Day, its foreman of laborers, to mode for the mannequin of a merchant seaman with gear. Day holds a merchant seaman's card.