Image courtesy of SailorJerry.com
Whether it was on an item of clothing, someone’s skin, or you happened to pick up a bottle of the rum created in his honor, you’ve no doubt seen the work of the late and great Norman ‘Sailor Jerry’ Collins. With so many new tattoo artists emerging every day, we sometimes forget the men that started it all. Norman was an innovator in his craft and miles ahead of his competition at the time by being one of the first artists to use purple pigment, single-use needles, and an autoclave for sterilization. He adapted American designs and incorporated Asiatic style to create a bold and distinguished style that still lives on today.
Sailor Jerry began his tattoo career as a teenager by hand-poking tattoos while he hopped freight trains around the country. He eventually apprenticed under Tatts Thomas in Chicago who taught him how to use an actual tattoo machine. At 19 he enlisted in the in The Great Lakes Naval Academy, taking him across the Pacific to China and Japan. These ventures inspired a love and appreciation for Asian art and culture that was reflected in his tattoo work.
He finally wound up in Hawaii in the early 30’s and decided to make it his home. Jerry tattooed in the infamous Hotel Street District in Honolulu and had hundreds of soldiers and sailors lined up daily to get tattooed while on their 48-hour shore leave. After closing up shop at night, Jerry hosted a radio show called Old Ironsides where he discussed everything from politics to poetry he had written.
Jerry tattooed for nearly 40 years and left behind a legacy that still holds strong today. As we celebrate his 103rd birthday today, we know that no matter how much the tattoo culture evolves, there will only ever be The Original Sailor Jerry.
To learn more about Norman, his life, and career, I highly recommend watching Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry: The Life of Norman K. Collins or heading over to www.SailorJerry.com!