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Sailor Sid Gatewood

Sailor Sid’s Legacy

Many people recognize "Sailor" Sid Diller from this iconic photo by Charles Gatewood (left), but few know the extent of  his role in the history of body piercing. Hopefully this will soon change, as more people discover him through the extensive collection of photographs, films and papers he left behind.

Modern body piercing in the U.S. started among a like-minded group of gay leathermen (and a few women) in California, and Sailor Sid was there in the early days, laying the groundwork for what body piercing would someday become.Fortunately for us he was not only a visionary but a thorough documentarian of what he and his peers were doing. In the most recent issue of The Point: The Journal of the APP, Paul King writes:

Sid kept meticulous records of his piercing work, documenting his procedures with hundreds of Polaroid photos, many identified with time, place, and subject neatly typed on labels. In a testament to Sid’s seemingly endless creativity, these pictures are stored in hand-made ‘binders,’ crafted by Sid out of wood, string, bolts, and wingnuts. In addition to the photographs, the collection includes pages of his personal correspondence (Sid was a tireless letter-writer), various magazine and newspaper clippings on the history of piercing from publications as diverse as The New York Times, National Geographic, and Fetish Times, piercing instructions, 8mm films from his travels, floppy disks, slides, and even comic strips he saved.

Sailor Sid Gatewood piercing

When Sailor Sid passed away in 1990, his collection was left to Jim Ward.  Jim donated the collection to the Leather Archives and Museum in Chicago in 1997—where the boxes have been since, untouched due to a lack of processing resources. The items are in a fragile state and in dire need of protection, as their age and non-archival materials mean they are quickly deteriorating. Now, the Leather Archives and Museum, in collaboration with the Association of Professional Piercers, is working to raise funds to digitize the entire collection, and make it available for viewing. These funds will facilitate getting the collection online and displayed in-house, for everyone from researchers to casual viewers.

Sailor Sid piercing archive

During last week’s APP Conference, there was a huge push (by the always-persuasive Paul King) to get the project funded. The result was a surge of donations. As of this writing, the campaign has almost doubled the original goal!

But the campaign isn’t over yet, and there are still a few days left to donate. We’re asking everyone to chip in, even a little bit, and join us to preserve an important part of our history. For more information about the campaign, check the video below. Then head to IndieGoGo to make your donation. (And if you’re near Chicago, make the trip to the Leather Archives. It’s an amazing place.)

Everyone in our industry owes Sid a debt. Help us to preserve his legacy.

Keeping “Sailor” Sid Diller’s legacy alive, online, and free for all. from Leather Archives & Museum on Vimeo.

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