Working alongside her father, a well-known Native American woodworker and artist, Robin Waynee learned early to appreciate handmade works. She says, "He was a purist. When he made a Windsor chair, he hand-planed every spindle. I was next to him and I helped." Her mother was also artistic. "It was a big part of growing up with two very creative people. I followed them around. Just being around that as a child influenced my future."
Originally from Michigan, and a member of the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe, Robin's family moved in her teens. She says, "It wasn't a great time in Michigan for jobs. My family came to Santa Fe where Native art was celebrated." Like her father, Robin worked with wood, making custom furniture. He began making jewelry, which she modeled for him, but she didn’t feel drawn to making jewelry herself.
Then she met local jewelry designer Ryan Roberts. "Ryan showed me what he did. It was like nothing I'd ever seen, the design and stone-setting, the way he moved the metal in curving ways I hadn't thought of before." Inspired by his work, she asked him to teach her his techniques. Ryan brought her on as an apprentice, the only one he ever had. Robin fell in love with making jewelry, rising quickly in her new art form. She also fell in love with her tutor; they married and had two sons.
Robin's jewelry often has a playfulness. She says, "I have to have moving parts, I want it to be versatile and wearable." A necklace might be reversible; earrings move gently as the wearer walks. Whimsy and attention to detail are her trademarks.
She begins with a detailed sketch that's mostly to scale, and her finished piece of jewelry will be almost identical to that sketch. The actual designing of the piece of jewelry isn't her favorite part of jewelry making. After the sketch, she moves to her work bench and the crafting of the jewelry. Robin says, "I call bench time the fun part of jewelry."
Bench time with gold is even better. "Gold is just so easy to work with—every other metal is challenging. Gold is easy to move for stone-setting and other work. It's the preferred metal and color of metal for most of our stones." While silver and white gold come with challenges such as how they can be heated and cooled, she adds, "Yellow gold is easy street. "Her favorite is 18k yellow gold which is defined as seventy-five percent gold. The alloy she chooses—the combination of gold and other metals—isn’t as bright a yellow as some and actually has a hint of a greenish tint.
Robin also does a lot of work with mixed metals, combining sterling silver or palladium, a high-end white metal, with gold. Her jewelry often has a soft finish she creates through a blasting process. Her choice of metals and special finish are a combination that customers say makes her jewelry more wearable. Robins says, "Mixed-metal jewelry is a lot of fun to make and wear, and a dramatic, versatile look."
But gold is the jeweler's favorite, and it's also a customer favorite. She says, "There's the perceived value of gold that everybodyhas. When people see all gold, they think, wow this is the expensive stuff."
Robin's meeting with Ryan not only changed her personal life, it set her on a path of success. She won a first place in the prestigious Saul Bell Design Awards with her first entry. Then she entered and won the next two years. She has been honored with NICHE Awards by NICHE magazine and two industry honors with the MJSA Vision Awards. To learn more about her work, visit www.robinwaynee.com.