Tattoos are one thing my mother and I continually disagree on. I have a few, and every time she catches a glimpse of a new one, she proves the theory of hell hath no fury like a mama bear scorned.
In the past, tattoos were something associated with only prostitutes and sailors. Their reputation has evolved through the American consciousness from distasteful symbols of bikers and gang members into a loose, general social acceptance. Today, one out of every seven young adults has at least one tattoo. Tattoos are now a prominent cultural statement in today’s society and can represent a person’s spiritual or recreational interest.
The art of tattooing originated in eastern Asia and has been practiced for thousands of years. It was introduced to the United States in the eighteenth century by seafarers.
So, if you have a tramp stamp, thank a sailor.
The Independence Seaport Museum is paying tribute to these brave men who wore their hearts on their sleeves, literally. Skin and Bones, Tattoos in the Life of the American Sailor, is a provocative exhibit that explores the beliefs, traditions, and power that tattoos held on American maritime culture. It will trace the origins and functions of tattoos in American sailors’ lives from the late 18th century and how modern day sailors have kept these customs alive.
Skin & Bones will also feature prominent members of the tattoo world including Samuel O’Reilly, who invented the electric tattoo machine, department store Macy’s founder Rowland Macy, whose nautical star tattoo inspired the store’s famous logo, as well as Sailor Jerry, Madame Chinchilla, and Sailor Eddie.
The exhibit runs from April 24th, 2009 to January 3rd, 2010. It will also be complimented by a compelling series of educational programming, including two screenings of the cult film Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry, which follows the life of Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins, the grandfather of Americana tattoos.