The Wolf Den Custom Tattoo Studio is a haven in the East Colfax Neighborhood. The rainbow flag on the door leads customers to an aesthetic space filled with art and intention. While the shop is an astounding place filled with love, founder Ryane Rose faced extreme adversity in opening a queer-owned studio.
“People outside of tattooing have no idea the historical violence, and a lot of it came from within,” Ryane said.
Rose opened The Wolf Den alongside their spouse, Jessica Rose. When the couple set to open the shop in the middle of the pandemic, the landlord hadn’t changed the locks and the man that previously owned the shop broke in, stealing everything.
From expensive chairs to art to decor, this man ransacked The Wolf Den and took everything in the space, including a mop bucket.
He left one thing behind – the rainbow flag on the door.
“That damn flag, I was like that’s it – that’s a symbol. It doesn’t matter, we can buy all these chairs and we’ll figure it out. It’s just staying strong and true to yourself,” Ryane said. “We couldn’t help but laugh at that point.”
Instances like this are an everyday occurrence for women and queer individuals in the tattoo industry. Dominated by cisgender heteronormative men, tattooing is competitive and cutthroat. Therefore, the Roses didn’t call the police because they knew they could be targeted in the future.
Instead, Ryane called the thief and asked why he had stolen everything. Followed by an angry response and another call to attempt to reconcile the situation, the man apologized and agreed to ship some items back to The Wolf Den.
Prior to The Wolf Den, Ryane worked in multiple street shops. They noticed that clients who came in would often feel very relieved to see a queer artist.
“Ten years ago, that didn’t exist. At the time, I was identifying as she/her and to see a female was a relief for other females. [I was] working next to all these other humans that didn’t care as much, they were a little more boisterous with their comments, a little unkind and purposely not making the space feel safe,” Ryane said.
Before Ryane opened their own shop, they had many bosses. One day, fortunately, The Wolf Den had to close the shop. That day, Ryane had gotten an alert from their security system and one of the threats almost came to life.
One of Ryane’s old bosses threatened The Wolf Den before opening fire in various locations around Denver and Lakewood. The man happened to be the shooter who took the lives of 5 individuals on Dec. 27, 2021, at Sol Tribe, a local tattoo studio.
“He came here first to find us, that’s how violent this community could be. Just by dumb luck, we weren’t here,” Ryane said. “So it’s not all butterflies and rainbows, it is still a real thing that people are opposed to this.”
Through these experiences, they realized how important it was for clients to feel safe in the space where they got their tattoos. In creating The Wolf Den, Ryane established an inclusive space in the Denver community.
Ryane has faced many hardships while trying to follow their dreams and create a space where people in the queer community feel safe and feel heard. They want their shop to make people feel comfortable. Ryane worked on a client recently who flew in from outside of Colorado because his partner would get tattoos in their home state, but the artist would purposely botch his art.
According to Ryane, the client explained that “I haven’t gotten tattoos in a long time in Kansas because they would purposely mess up on queer people and he would mess up on my partner, but I wanted to celebrate this new chapter of my life. So we found this shop and we flew out here because I knew that you wouldn’t mess up on my art.'”
Ryane looks forward to working every day because of stories like this. Connecting with other humans from different backgrounds and creating art is why they love their job. Throughout their career, Ryane struggled to find a tattoo shop that was female-owned or a queer-owned space. So they created one themselves, a space where people both inside and out of the queer community can feel safe coming to. A space where the clients can trust their artists.
“We’re creating an environment to create on people forever. It’s not just a talent, it’s a career,” Ryane said.
While the tattoo industry still has work to do in becoming more inclusive, “it’s starting to come back with this younger generation of women. I am just blown away by their talent, their kindness, their openness. And I feel very honored that I feel like I got to be a springboard for that. I think that was my role, and they’re taking the baton and running with it – it’s pretty rad,” Ryane added.
When The Wolf Den first opened, there were seven artists working.
“It was well oiled, but that’s what it felt like: maintaining a machine. I wanted to pour into something sacred, not just an emotional gas tank and typical large shop,” Ryane said. They had to think about how they wanted to run their shop, realizing soon that the more artists working weren’t necessarily better.
“I wanted the space to be intimate, calm and creative. That’s why we have an art gallery and elevated tattoo studio,” Ryane said. “We now have artists from around the world applying to work here and be a part of it as guests or residential artists. I’m very proud of that.”
The Wolf Den is an almost completely plastic-free tattoo shop. Everything in the shop is biodegradable. They partnered with a company based out of Canada called Good Judy to accomplish this. “We go through so much waste, we have to, but there’s just a better way to do it,” Ryane said.
Ryane is not the only artist at The Wolf Den. Alongside their spouse Jessica, a skilled leather artist as well as the curator of the gallery inside the shop, Meghan Donohue is Ryane’s apprentice and Hailey Turkey Crossley is a tattoo artist.
Crossley loves connecting with all the different people that visit The Wolf Den. She loves the team she works with and the opportunities she’s been afforded. Crossley appreciates the creative freedom in doing something she loves.
“I love making people feel empowered about their body and helping them feel more beautiful in their skin here,” she said.
Donohue moved to Denver only four months ago and she is grateful to navigate the city through the art scene. She loves the human connection she gets in tattooing at The Wolf Den and also the creative release in drawing every day while working with other artists.
Jessica is an artist in the community and she has helped expand The Wolf Den by bringing in queer artists to showcase their work. Guests enter the space and are greeted with the well-curated gallery showcasing divine art pieces with meaning and intention. The gallery, featuring Annie Decamp, will open in July.
“That’s a fun way to kick off Pride Month,” Jessica said. “Annie really likes to experiment and study humans in general.”
Jessica volunteers her time in any way she can for the community. She will soon be collaborating with the Denver Queer Art Club for The Rainbow Market, hosted by The Wolf Den on June 12. The vendors come from all walks of life – some have been selling their art in settings like this for years and some are doing so for the first time. The Rainbow Market is a place where people can be seen, heard and celebrated.
“I felt like that was such a great way to provide a space for people to actually shop from queer folk … I think it’s a really important way people can put their money where their mouth is, you know if you want to support queer folk, here’s a wonderful opportunity to do it,” Jessica said.
In opening The Wolf Den, The Roses created a place where people can feel comfortable talking about their experiences, whether they have come out or they haven’t yet. It’s a place where individuals who walk through the door can be a part of something.
Individuals in the queer community have faced so many obstacles to simply be who they are and that is why Pride Month is so important. In June and beyond, those in this community can celebrate themselves and feel safe while doing so.
“Pride month to me just means freedom, love and joy,” Crossley said.
Pride Month has a different meaning for everyone. Pride itself lends a feeling of comfort, accomplishment and also resistance. It’s acknowledging how far society has come in accepting members of the queer community, yet understanding what it took to get here and also the injustices that those who identify as LGBTQIA+ continue to face.
On the surface, Pride can also be a celebration of art, color and expression.
“Pride Month for me is just like fun, excitement, full-throttle color … When I think of Pride Month, I think of art and I think art expression is lending itself to activism the most,” Donohue said.
Pride is also protecting a safe and inclusive space built for the queer community.
“I can go anywhere, and every single day I wake up next to my spouse and that’s Pride to me, but for the month I think it’s a way for our love to have visibility and to teach others, not just people that are queer heterosexual people, that it’s okay to just love who you want to love,” Jessica said.
Coming out and celebrating Pride can be an amazing and empowering feeling, but it can also be a scary time for individuals in the queer community.
When Jessica went to her first Pride celebration she had not come out yet. “I was absolutely terrified because I didn’t even totally understand. I knew that I was queer, but I was still so young and from such a rural area, that honestly, Pride was pretty scary … I didn’t know what to do with myself really. It was beautiful to see, but I think it was because it was basically like holding a mirror up,” she said.
Ryane was 19 years old when they celebrated Pride for the first time. Their experience was scary and exciting yet served as a huge realization for them as well.
“I was super scared because I was afraid if my friends saw me, then they knew I was gay,” Ryane said. “It was really exciting to see so many people come together and I was like ‘oh my god I didn’t know this many gay people existed.’ I know that sounds silly, but I felt like I might have a shot at being safe and that was a really cool thing,” they said.
The Wolf Den has overcome many challenges to get where they are today. The studio is home to a new generation of artists and exciting events and opportunities continue to brighten the space’s future.
“I’m seeing all these young creatives coming into the industry and they don’t know what it’s like to have this old school tattooer mentality, which I think is beautiful because they don’t know what it’s like to be territorial, they don’t know what it’s like to have your shop be threatened to be burned down,” Ryane said.
In welcoming this new generation of tattoo artists, “we’re wiping out that mentality completely and creating bridges … It’s already changing and us older artists need to get on board,” Ryane said.
Pride Month is a time to celebrate loving anyone and everyone you want. It is a time for the LGBTQIA+ community to celebrate themselves and all the hardships they have overcome. Pride is something to be celebrated not only this month but every single day.
The Wolf Den is celebrating this year’s Pride with the Rainbow Market and Decamp’s gallery opening. Additionally, the artists celebrate Pride whenever their tattoo needle touches a client’s skin. Their work indicates how far they have come and what it took for The Wolf Den to become what it is today. They are making strides by creating a safe space for the Queer community, but it hasn’t come without challenges.
The Wolf Den is located at 6640 E. Colfax Ave. and is open Tuesday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
The Rainbow Market is on Sunday, June 12 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m in the parking lot at The Wolf Den.
The 303 Magazine style team came together with the artists at The Wolf Den for a photo shoot celebrating the space, the artists themselves and Pride Month.
Photography by Jackson Davis (unless otherwise stated)
Photography Assistant Vikki Wong
Location The Wolf Den
Fashion Editor Abby Schirmacher
Lead Stylist Hailey Hodapp
Makeup by Leah Llanes
Fashion Writer Udella Miranda