Tattoo Blog

Art that adorns the flesh…

Skin and Bones

April 26th, 2009 by

A new tattoo exhibit has opened this weekend at the Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia, PA.  The exhibit, entitled “Skin & Bones: Tattoos in the Life of the American Sailor, chronicles the rise of tattoos amongst American sailors from the late 18th century to present day.  According to the event curator Craig Burns, tattoos and sailors have gone hand in hand for generations and that, “If you have a tattoo, you really have a sailor to thank.”

Burns is right.  Most of us live our lives thinking that sailors are only responsible for cool sayings like “shiver me timbers” and for fighting pirates, but it really is interesting to discover how deeply ingrained into the sailor lifestyle that tattoos have been.  One of my personal favorite sailor tattoos from way back is displayed on the poster for the exhibit: the rooster and the pig on the feet, talismans which are intended to protect sailors against drowning.  

The story goes that a pig tattoo on one foot and a rooster tattoo on the other will enable the sailor to walk on water.  The superstition started when cargo ships carrying livestock sank, leaving behind only the crates of animals, which floated.  As a result, the pig and the rooster came to symbolize this buoyancy and it became something of a tradition for sailors to adorn their feet with the likeness of a pig and a rooster.

Aside from the exhibit itself, there will be two screenings of the 2008 Eric Weiss documentary, Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry: The Life of Norman K. Collins, and a panel discussion involving Eric Weiss, tattoo historian Nick Schoenberger, director of the Tattoo Archive, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, C.W. Eldridge and U.S. Coast Guard Chief Warrant Office Richard Sambenedetto Jr.  But wait!  There’s more: the museum gift shop will be filled to the gills with tattoo related books, souvenirs and pretty much anything that any tattoo historian or fan would find worthwhile.

So check it out, learn something new and pay your respects to an important part of tattoo history in America.

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