An Angel Bird and a Clown Bird (Tattoo)

Clown bird - swallow tattoo by Robert Jarrett at 2 Ton Tattoo Gallery, Kingsport, TN

“But you decorated the tree with angels last year, Gran! How about next year you decorate it with clowns!”

Made sense to me, at least. My grandparents always had the biggest Christmas tree of any of my friends and family and was always decked out with angels from the illuminated tree-topper angel to the 30″ motorized angel child holding a candle at the base that waved her hand around, twisting her head in a hypnotic smoothness. My Gran has always collected angels – photos, figurines, knickknacks, statues, etc. They lined the shelves of a display case in the living room, guarded lines of books on the bookcase in the den and watched over her sleeping head stowed away in glass-doored display cases that were built into the headboard of her and Pap’s bed.

With her fascination of angels equally fascinating to me, I understood her desire to decorate the Christmas tree with these Americanized, humanoid angelic beings. But in the interest of fairness, I only thought it correct to decorate the tree in clowns every other year.

I guess at this point I should point out that my Paps collected clowns, particularly Emmett Kelly figurines. Kelly was a trapeze artist-turned circus clown starting in the 1930’s. In character as “Weary Willie” his signature act was the failed “sweeping away” of the spotlight at the end of the shows while performing for both Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey circuses. His figurines depicted this sad, broken down hobo of a clown with his patch-worn pants, tattered jacket and floppy hat, his face paint accentuating his pitifully sad frown. Sometimes he was sweeping, sleeping or inflating balloons; other times he was begging for change, lounging on a park bench or simply standing in place. While Paps had other clowns (including a figurine of a clown putting another clown in a Boston Crab wrestling maneuver and an extremely creepy – and awesome – clown puppet swinging on a wooden swing suspended from the ceiling above the bed), the Emmett Kelly figures have stood out to me above the rest.

My mom’s parents have been there for me for longer than I can remember. Some of my earliest memories include them coming over to my mom and dad’s first house when they moved in and helping them paint the walls and move furniture. I once dreamt they won the lottery, which made sense to me because they seemed to go on vacation a lot and liked going out for dinner and buying me gifts regularly. My Gran was a hard worker around the house; cooking and cleaning nearly every day, ironing all the clothes, even our socks and underwear, and being super involved in their Presbyterian church. She was a great example of how to not only take care of household chores but to enjoy them and, if not, accept the responsibility and be grateful for the opportunity. Paps was a well-rounded handy man, always working on something around the house and at the church. I worked on a countless number of projects with him back by the pool, in the garage or out in the yard, even starting a mowing “business” with him when I was 13. He taught me financial responsibility, helped me learn how to drive and more than anything to stick with something until it was finished.

Needless to say, I owe a lot of the man I am today to the life and experiences I have been fortunate enough to have with my grandparents. With this in mind it’s not surprising that I wanted to commemorate those times with my grandparents in the form of permanent art on my skin. While I do not necessarily believe that a tattoo has to mean something, a common “meaning” behind the swallow tattoo (taken from Wikipedia) is a representation of “love, care and affection towards family or friends, showing the loyalty of the person always returning to them” among other things. I felt it only appropriate to have a couple of swallows flying together to show my “love, care and affection toward” my grandparents.

As always, my friend and incredible artist Rob Jarrett at 2 Ton Tattoo Gallery in Kingsport picked up the pen and paper to design my vision of an angelic swallow and an Emmett Kelly swallow flying together. I found myself in the chair on Saturday staring in amazement at the concept he put together: a “clown” bird with frown makeup, floppy hat and tie – an “angel” bird with a cross necklace, a halo and glow.

The tattoo took a just a couple of hours and is located on the outside of my left forearm just beside Amy Winehouse tattoo and just above EAT:

This happened today – @2tongallery was responsible #eat #tattoo

A post shared by justintfirefly (@justintfirefly) on

I suppose it’s also worth mentioning that my mom came by after I was finished to talk to Rob about getting a tattoo for herself. Rob asked “Want to do it now?” and this happened:

I’m a very proud son :-)

If you’re ever in the area – or not, I don’t care – I highly recommend 2 Ton Gallery in Kingsport, TN. Please show them some love:

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