Saturday, March 7, 2009


Apprenticed under: Charlie Snow, but people such as Sailor Joe Simmons, Kazuo Oguri a.k.a Horihide of Gifu, Mitsuaki Ohwada a.k.a Horikin of Yokahama, Hiroshi Sakamoto, Paul Rogers, Cliff Raven, Tatts Tommy, August "Cap" Coleman, Huck Spaulding, "Brooklyn" Joe Lieber and Zeke Owen (to name a few) have been a influence, or a friend to him over the years.

Shops: 1960 Swallow, Snow and Professor Baldwin Tattoo Shop which dates back to 1890. 2008 Sailor Jerry Swallow’s Olde Tyme Tattoo in Victoria BC, Canada (Link 1, Link 2)

To start this off. I know some of you will confuse Sailor Jerry Swallow to Sailor Jerry Collins. So here are the facts: Sailor Jerry Swallow is a Canadian Tattooer and still very much alive. Sailor Jerry Collins died in 1973 (R.I.P). Sailor Jerry Swallow DID NOT steal the name Sailor Jerry from Sailor Jerry Collins. Even if some people still insist on that. He got the nickname Sailor when he's dad took him down the waterfront to see USN aircraft carriers. He was standing around USS Essex and a sailor came by. Piss drunk. Tanked like a motherfucker. The sailor took off his hat, put it on Jerry's head, gave him a salute, and said something like You’re a real sailor now!. And that was that. After that he was the king shit for a while. And then he got into tattooing...

Jerry's start in tattooing was an early one. He helped Sailor Joe Simmons (who was in his 80’s and half blind), by mixing his red ink, drawing pictures for him, telling him if his needles were hooked or not. He was still only 12-13, back in late 1950’s. But it never did amount to nothing more. Charlie Snow took an interest in Jerry, so he made him draw his ass off and sweep the floors. Normal shit in other words. Jerry started tattooing under his guidance at May 25 in 1960, when he was just 15 years old. That is where Jerry learned to love and respect the art of tattooing. In a shop that was the oldest tattoo shop in Canada, dating back to 1890. The roots were deep. He learned the immense importance of flash art. If you were a tattooer, you did flash. And still, after close to 49 years of tattooing he is still doing it. It is safe to say that many classic American tattoo designs that you see today, be it modified or originals, wouldn't even be around with out people like Sailor Jerry Swallow. A good guide for all this is a book by Jerry titled Traditional American Tattoo Design. Here is what the esteemed C.W. Eldridge writes in his book shop's website (

"Sailor Jerry Swallow does a great job of crediting the source of these designs and giving the artists of the past their due! Military, religious, figural, animal, and nature themes are displayed among the many hundred designs. Changes in tattoo art over the years is shown as well as the trend today to return to earlier designs. This book will be an endless source of inspiration for those who are passionate about tattoo art."

Needles to say, it is a must have.

The importance of the work done by Jerry for American tattooing alone would be a huge feat. But he has also defined Canadian, and most likely to some extent American tattoo culture in ways that only few have.

In the 1960's you didn't have a Internet, so many times you kept in touch with other tattooers via snail mail. Jerry had correspondence with Japanese master tattoo artists such as Mitsuaki Ohwada of Yokahama, Kazuo Oguri and Hiroshi Sakamoto. They exchanged letters which contained drawings that Jerry did of traditional Japanese subjects which were critiqued and corrected by the masters. He studied the world of Horimono (japanese tattooing) trough out the 60's and brought it to Canada in the early 70's. After he had proved to always honour and respect the traditions of Japanese tattooing, he received the title Hori (Hori means literally "carve" and dates back to Japanese artists who did woodblock prints, also know as Ukiyo-e) in 1979. He could choose to be named after Horihide (Kazuo Oguri) or to be called Horiryu, which means dragon. He chose to be called Horiyu. And so now he was Horishi; tattooist worthy of tattooing traditional Japanese motifs. John "The Dutchman" credits Jerry for introducing Japanese tattooing to tattoo artists in Canada.

Jerry's influence is evident in many of the names I mentioned earlier. Because of his love for tattooing, it is much easier for us to know those artists that have defined what western tattooing is. Names like "Brooklyn" Joe Lieber, August “Cap” Coleman, Paul Rogers, Zeke Owen. And even people such as Ed Hardy, Paul Jeffries, Bob Roberts and Horiyoshi III can give a collective nod towards Jerry for always staying true to the spirit of tattooing. Never harming it. Being true. True tattoo heroes aren't just the ones that everyone know about. There are some who have spend all their years in silence, just grinding the fuck on. Just keeping that spark alive. Keeping us alive. Because the flash and art that you see in some shops, might be the only thing that is left from the ones who came before. And in these days I cant help to think that it means so much for to have something so rich in meaning. There is real soul buried in those sheets and designs. They have real living faces behind them. And when it has taken someone a life time to keep it alive and dragg it back to the modern world, intact and pure while still bleeding that pitch black history, I can only say; Mister Sailor Jerry Swallow, you have my eternal respect.