From Tattoo Guru to Jewelry Designer: Inside Bailey Hunter Robinson’s Studio

Blair Pfander
From Tattoo Guru to Jewelry Designer: Inside Bailey Hunter Robinson’s Studio
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Over the past nine years, Brooklyn-based tattooer Bailey Hunter Robinson has become synonymous with traditional, color-saturated Americana tattoos, his portfolio teeming with bucking broncos, skulls-and-daggers and scarlet red roses.
Now, the artist is trying his hand at jewelry-making with Cloud Arrow, a collection of pueblo and Navajo-inspired adornments. Here, the artist lets us peek the new line and snoop through his taxidermy-furbished studio in Williamsburg.
Photography by: Lianna Tarantin

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Over the past nine years, Brooklyn-based Bailey Hunter Robinson has earned a devoted following for his classic, color-saturated Americana tattoos—many of which are documented on his blog, Copper Beehive. Now, the artist is trying his (heavily inked) hand at jewelry-making with Cloud Arrow, a collection of pueblo and Navajo-inspired adornments launching this month.

Photo: /Lianna Tarantin

"I guess it's kind of weird [how I got started]," says Robinson, who—after gigs up and down the East Coast (including a stint at Scott Campbell's shop, Saved)—now works out of a sunny Williamsburg, Brooklyn, studio furbished with taxidermy and antique oddities. "What was happening then was sort of a strange beginning of traditional tattooing... it really wasn't until I moved to New York and found some other influences that I realized that you don't have to do the same kinds of traditional tattoos that other people do."

The traditional style Robinson is known for today is at least partially the result of his extensive knowledge of old American tattoos."I started doing more research and getting more interested in early 20th and 19th century tattoo artists, and tried to emulate their style," he says of his early days. "[The style] also lends itself well to my inability to draw super realistic things so hey, win-win."

Jewelry, however, was always in the back of Robinson's mind. "Growing up in Alabama is a far cry from, say, the Southwest," he explains. "But my father is old—he's a pretty old guy, he'll be eighty-one this month—and he used to go to Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, Alaska on these big game hunts back in the '60s and '70s. He would go out there and he would bring back these really awesome turquoise rings and cool pottery…just interesting things that I think, being from Alabama, I wouldn't have been exposed to otherwise."

It's no surprise, then, that Cloud Arrow echoes the traditional style of jewelry that he's been drawn to since childhood. "I've collected pueblo and Navajo jewelry for a number of years," says Robinson."It's a pretty extensive collection. I feel like if you're really committed to doing something, you have to find the things you actually like." Here, a range from the Cloud Arrow collection, including one of Robinson's latest: the polished brass "snake" ring.

Comfort and wearability are important design considerations for Robinson, who emphasizes rings in the collection (which also includes one pendant) because they can be worn day after day. "I'm not an excessive jewelry dude," he says. "I try to keep it to one or two pieces at most." Here, a closer look at one of Robinson's pueblo ingot rings. 

Prior to launching Cloud Arrow, Robinson collected guides to Native American symbology. "There's a language to it," he says. "You probably wouldn't take some onyx and put it on a Thunderbird ring. I'm in no way shape or form an expert on it, but I'm learning." Among our favorites: the "Crossed Arrows" ring finished with the tiniest turquoise stone, or the "Large Sun," which features a slightly raised dome at the top. 

Robinson isn't interested in just replicating old Navajo styles. For one thing, he isn't working exclusively with silver (though a number of pieces are made from a medium-polished, satiny silver). "I really love brass right now," he says. "It's so beautiful—brass and turquoise, oh, it looks so nice. And you can do a lot with brass. You can polish it, or let it get this really nice patina...and there's an abundance of it, which makes it more affordable so more people can enjoy it."

Robinson is the first to acknowledge that the word Navajo has been thrown around a little recklessly in the past several years. "I'm not doing that," he says definitively. "I'm taking a strong influence from those things, and trying to create something that runs parallel without crossing the line."

The same holds true for the tattoos. "If I tried Japanese tattooing, for example, I don't think I'd be very successful because I don't understand the language of it," he explains. "That's why I do old Americana tattooing—because I know it. With the jewelry, I'm trying to do something I really love for myself, but with reverence and respect to that era of jewelry-making." From $60 to $270. Cloud Arrow will be available at Joinery and Stock Vintage. For ordering inquiries, visit copperbeehive.com.

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