Sailor Jerry Rum Embraces its Namesake Tattoo Artist at Chicago’s Field Museum

Contributor
The museum is honoring the legendary tattoo artist with an exhibition and cocktails
Sailor Jerry Rum

Marcia Frost

The museum is selling Sailor Jerry Rum cocktails in its cafe. 

Sailor Jerry Rum has earned its spot in the front of the bar, but it’s been a while since its namesake received the recognition he should. It’s all come full circle in Chicago, where The Field Museum and Sailor Jerry Rum have partnered to honor the world of tattoos.

Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins gained fame as a prominent American tattoo artist, probably best known in the mainstream as the creator of the hula girl who adorns the Sailor Jerry Rum bottle. His body art was known to be old-school patriotic, colorful, and long lasting, and is now represented in one of the most visited sections in the TATTOO exhibition at Chicago’s Field Museum.

The exhibit is a collaboration between the museum and Sailor Jerry Rum. It will run until at least April 30, 2017 (there’s a chance it’ll be extended), and it explores the history and styles of tattoos from the Neolithic times to the present, around the world. It even looks into how body art has been used for symbols in religion and through the prison system. It’s a fascinating showcase of a form of ritual art that dates back thousands of years.

The Sailor Jerry displays at the TATTOO exhibition gives a look into the art and the man, who was born in 1911 and grew up in Northern California. He honed his craft while traveling through the country with a needle and black ink before settling in Chicago and learning how to use a tattoo machine as he trained with a body art legend at the time, Gib “Tatts” Thomas.

Collins did a stint in the Navy after that he left the Midwest and wound up in Honolulu, Hawaii, where Pearl Harbor changed everything – including the desire of service men to acquire patriotic tattoos.

The partnership between Sailor Jerry Rum and The Field Museum is a rather unique one. It’s allowed for two things you probably won’t ever see in another museum again: Sailor Jerry Rum cocktails in the café, and live tattooing in the exhibition.

Brittany Lambright

Artist Donna Klein of Taylor Street Tattoo shows off a Sailor Jerry eagle tattoo she just finished for a customer.


One room of TATTOO has been left for weekly guest tattoo artists to create their art on patrons (for $250, a donation to The Field Museum). Among the visiting artists participating in the unusual offering is Spike TV’s Ink Master Oliver Peck, a big fan of the Sailor Jerry-style tattoos. A special museum shop has also been created next to the tattoo shop to sell Sailor Jerry clothing and memorabilia.

Although Collins passed away in 1973 at the age of 62, he made sure his talent lived on by establishing the next group of tattoo legends. Ed Hardy, Kazuo Oguri, and Mike Malone apprenticed under Sailor Jerry during the final year of his life.

Malone brought his styling to Chicago, where he opened Taylor Street Tattoo in 2004 with Keith Underwood, less than three miles from The Field Museum. With all of the options available for body art at the famed shop, tattoo artist Donna Klein says Sailor Jerry tattoos are still the most popular she does.

Norman Collins was also known for the many slogans he passed on in his art and through his words. One of the most repeated is “I haven't done my best yet, only my best so far” a statement Sailor Jerry’s Rum strives to fulfill.

Celebrate the collaboration of Sailor Jerry and the TATTOO exhibit at The Field Museum with these ginger cocktails. The spice is a complement to the rum’s vanilla and cinnamon notes.

Jerry Loves Ginger
1 part Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum
3 parts ginger beer
Candied ginger

Add Sailor Jerry Rum to an empty highball glass filled with ice.
Top with ginger beer and garnish with candied ginger.

Ginger Rum Punch
1 part Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum
¼ part fresh lemon juice
¼ part homemade ginger syrup
3 parts black tea
Lemon and ginger peels

Pour Sailor Jerry Rum, lemon juice, and ginger syrup into an empty mixing bowl.
Add small amount of ice and stir slowly.
Pour in tea and continue to stir.
Add more ice to dilute and garnish with lemon and ginger peels.

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