Norman "Sailor Jerry" Collins (born 1911, died 1973) is considered the foremost American tattoo artist of his time. He expanded the array of colors available by developing his own safe pigments. He created needle formations that embedded pigment with much less trauma to the skin, and he was one of the first to utilize single-use needles and hospital-quality sterilization. His attention to detail was so precise that the riggings in his nautical tattoos were perfectly accurate. Artistically, his influence stems from his union of the roguish attitude of the American sailor with the mysticism and technical prowess of the Far East. He maintained a close correspondence with Japanese tattoo masters during his career. He regarded tattoos as the ultimate rebellion against "the Squares".
Sailor Jerrys last studio was in Honolulu's Chinatown, then the only place on the island where tattoo studios were located. He thrived in the hotbed of competition. His work was so widely copied, he took to printing "The Original Sailor Jerry" on his business cards.
A mischievous sense of humor is frequently on display in Sailor Jerrys work, which included such impish designs as the "Aloha Chimpanzee", an image of a monkey bent over with its head facing out from between its legs and "ALOHA" spelled out on its behind (with a red "O" that also doubles as the chimpanzee's anus). Yet he was an avid and vocal proponent of professionalism and craft. In the tattoo world, he was well-known for his frequent campaigns against middling practitioners, whom he called "scab artists". Conversely, he went out of his way to mentor those tattoo artists whose talents and attitude he respected, among them tattoo legends Don Ed Hardy, Cliff Raven, Don Nolan, and Mike Malone, to whom he entrusted his legacy of flash designs.
At age 19, Sailor Jerry enlisted in the US Navy. It was during his subsequent travels at sea when he was exposed to the art and imagery of Southeast Asia. He remained a sailor for his entire life thereafter. Even during his career as tattoo artist, he worked as licensed skipper of a large three-masted schooner, on which he conducted tours of the Hawaiian islands. Sailing and tattooing were only two of his professional endeavors. He played saxophone in his own dance band and for years, Sailor Jerry was the ultra conservative, frequently controversial host of his own night talk show on KTRG radio, where he broadcasted as "Old Ironsides". Among those things he railed against were flashy tattoo artists such as Lyle Tuttle, and what he called "hippie tattoo" culture. From his 20s to his late 50s, he stopped tattooing entirely as a part of a disagreement with the IRS. He only tattooed for approximately 12 years.
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