Few artists – let alone tattooists – have the career that Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins had. A true pioneer of the tattoo art form, Collins was responsible for taking tattoo to places it had never been before and showing people what an art form that it could be. He was the first tattooist to incorporate purple into his designs, he developed the magnum tattoo needle and he was a very early proponent of the importance of proper needle sterilization. His style is instantly recognisable even today, thirty-eight years after his death. There’s even a delicious rum named after him.
So it all makes sense to know that Collins is now getting a place in history that may even surpass the longevity of his actual tattoos. Philadelphia’s Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts is busy at work preserving Collin’s work.
‘The center is a nonprofit conservation laboratory that focuses on works on paper, ranging from paintings to rare books to photos. Among the historic documents that have crossed the center’s tables: Ben Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanack, abolitionist Frederick Douglass’ diaries and a copy of the U.S. Constitution.
The conservators have painstaking, sometimes tedious, jobs. They must maintain the integrity of the original works while repairing obvious damage. Tools of the trade include fragile Japanese paper, brushes, erasers and gentle solvents.
The center handled three types of Collins’ work: drawings on tracing paper, stencils on acetate, and “flash art,” the designs that the artist displayed in his studio.’
An honour indeed for the artist, but also a blessing for the tattoo community and everyone who enjoys important and well crafted works of art. Sailor Jerry is truly a legendary figure and I for one find it quite suiting that his work is to be preserved in this manner alongside other items of important historical value. Even from the grave it seems that Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins continues to push tattooing into new and positive arenas.