The wife of a well-known Saskatoon tattoo artist is honouring her late husband by preserving his tattoos.

Chris Wenzel, the owner of Electric Underground Tattoos, died in his sleep last month. His wife Cheryl said he loved museums, art and artifacts and told her he wanted his tattoos preserved before he died.

“He used to always say ‘tattoo till death.’ I think he really took it to a different context,” she said with a laugh.

Chris, 41, is remembered as being welcoming, gentle and hilarious. If you just met him it felt like you knew him forever, Cheryl said.

“He was a really, really caring man,” Cheryl said. “He loved his children. He’d do anything for his children and for myself.”

Cheryl had been with Chris for 23 years and she shares fond memories of their strong bond with laughter and an obvious love.

He had ulcerative colitis, complained about his chest and his heart just stopped, Cheryl said. She said he knew he was going to die and told others if he did, to look after his family.

“It still feels like I’m waiting for him to come home,” Cheryl said.

Before his death on Oct. 28, Chris discovered Save My Ink Forever, a US-based company that preserves tattoos. The company’s chief operating officer said they’ve preserved hundreds of tattoos since its inception two years ago.

Kyle Sherwood said families can work with a funeral home or the company directly to get loved ones’ tattoos preserved. The skin is surgically excised then preserved with a special formula in a frame. The entire process takes about three months, according to Sherwood.

“Tattoos tell a story about a person and for someone to get something tattooed on them, that they’re displaying for life, means something to them,” he said.

In Chris’s case, Sherwood traveled to Saskatoon himself to remove the tattoos because of the sheer volume. He believes it’s the largest scale preservation in North America: about seven tattoos including a back and chest piece and tattoos on his legs and arms.

“You wouldn’t burn or bury a Picasso and that’s what some of these pieces are,” Sherwood said.

The entire preservation will cost Cheryl about $80,000; she said she’ll honour her husband’s wishes no matter what.

“They were able to do it in such a way that we could still present Chris in a respectful way,” she said.

Chris did his first tattoo on his aunt when he was nine years old. He became a respected, talented artist in Saskatoon and along with Cheryl owned Electric Underground Tattoos.

“If you know anybody in the city with a tattoo it’s probably one of his,” tattoo artist Marc Wishart said.

Chris brought Wishart aboard Electric Underground 10 years ago and Wishart said it’s been the best part of his career. Chris is known for his bold, dynamic and detailed imagery, according to Wishart.

“He was super dedicated to putting his whole energy into what he was doing each day,” he said.

Cheryl’s tattoos include some done by Chris and some to honour him. She said before he died she told him if he was going to get his tattoos preserved, she would too.

“I know one day I’ll be right there, hanging with my husband,” she said.

There are plans to unveil Chris’s preserved tattoos at a tattoo expo in Saskatoon in the spring.