A few months back I said hello to a couple that were visiting here and after talking for a second they said they were from Germany. What motivated me to say hello was that I saw a tattoo on the lady’s forearm that looked very much like a Sailor Jerry inspired design. This prompted me to remind them about Chinatown, and of course they knew about Sailor Jerry. In fact, as Jason Miller of the Sailor Jerry Festival points out the man himself has inspired many. And tonight in Chinatown they host the very first festival dedicated to Sailor Jerry.
What drew you in to learn more about Norman Keith “Sailor Jerry” Collins?
I got my first tattoo back in 1988 and have been a fan of the art form ever since. Sailor Jerry was (and remains) so significant and influential that it’s nearly impossible not to come across his tremendous body of work, nor the fact that he pioneered numerous modern day practices. Additionally, my love for Hawai’i is strong, as was his… and the bulk of his career was spent right here on O’ahu. Plus little things like the fact that we both grew up in Northern California and came to find Hawai’i later in life, and he was born in the same city as my mother, and my grandfather would always speak very highly of his time spent in the islands on his way back from a tour of duty in China. I have no doubt that he was raising hell on Hotel Street back in the day.
Where did the name Sailor Jerry come from?
Well, as the story goes… he was given the nickname ‘Jerry’ by his father, allegedly after noticing a similar disposition between the young troublemaker & the families’ cantankerous mule. The ‘Sailor’ part was added later, after joining the US Navy and traveling far and wide. He also worked as a licensed captain of a large three-masted schooner that gave tours of the Hawaiian Islands.
How did the Sailor Jerry Festival come about?
It was just an idea for a long time. In fact, I announced the creation of it two full years ago, partly as a way to motivate me to follow through on it, but the man is truly a legendary figure and yet many people aren’t aware of his story. I figured if we could help shine a light on the person and the background behind the name (despite the fact that he was never one for publicity) it would open some eyes, which is never a bad thing. Recently I approached my friend Josh (musician and co-owner of the Downbeat Diner & Lounge) about teaming up with me to finally make it happen, and with a shared workload approach, things started to come together at long last.
When you approached the local community about his festival, how excited were they about joining the very first one?
It was always something that went over well, but I knew that I wanted to make it something fairly special or not bother, but there was always a strong interest. I think we have a reached a place where it’s not your average event and it has the kind of variety that most tattoo enthusiasts will appreciate. We know that you can’t please everyone and we welcome feedback because it’s our intent to do this every year. We’ve even heard from some older guys that have thanked us for honoring Sailor Jerry, his role in the history of the Chinatown neighborhood, and aspects of tattoo culture itself. We quote one on our website in fact. (SailorJerryFestival.com)
Why do you think Sailor Jerry fascinates people?
I think it’s due to a wide range of reasons, but in my opinion he was a genuine artist, that was able to build upon and expand the possibilities of his craft. From what I’ve learned he studied things closely and was very meticulous. He was innovative and clever. He made so many now classic images and pushed boundaries. He was among the first to gain access to the Japanese tattoo culture, etc etc etc. I would highly recommend watching the “Hori Smoku” documentary to get a much better understanding of these things and much more. It’s available on DVD or as a streaming video. We’ll also be screening it at one of the venues (Bar35) tonight at 6:45pm.
Who is the Sailor Jerry Festival for?
While we do have things available to people of all ages, this is primarily a 21+ event that was designed for just about anyone. Tattoo culture is open to all, and has become so widespread as of late. It’s not just for the rebels anymore! That said, it has an incredibly rich history that shouldn’t be lost, especially considering the global contributions of one Norman Keith “Sailor Jerry” Collins, who did a lot of it from right here in Hawai’i.
O’ahu Fringe Festival wishes Jason Miller and everyone involved much success tonight. To buy tickets and to learn more please visit Sailor Jerry Festival. You can also follow them on their social media page.