The Jack Robinson Archive – one of the companies under the Robinson brand – was recently featured in Legends Magazine. Jack was very involved in our stained glass business. The full article can be found on their website. Here is an excerpt:
No one in Memphis really knew Jack Robinson. They didn’t know that the Meridian, Mississippi-born, Clarksdale, Mississippi-raised, gay graphic artist – whose designs for stained glass were the work of an intuitive savant – had lived a former life as a sought-after New York City fashion photographer, framing in his lens everyone from Warren Beatty and Clint Eastwood to Joni Mitchell, Nina Simone, Andy Warhol and Tina Turner.
By the time Robinson moved back South to Memphis in 1972, he had built an archive of 150,000 thrilling, mostly black and white negatives that told, among other things, the stories of mid-century American celebrity culture through his own signature aesthetic. It wasn’t until his untimely death in 1997 that anyone in Memphis beheld this silver gelatin diary. Robinson had shuttered his fascinating past in the darkroom-shadows in life, but his death flung open the vault, developing a posthumous living legacy that will be forever fixed to the last place he called home.
Dan Oppenheimer is the caretaker of Jack Robinson’s story. He met Robinson in 1978 and knew him then primarily as the designer at a rival stained glass business. Oppenheimer, a life-long Memphian, had begun his own stained glass operation in 1975. By the early 1980s, Robinson joined Oppenheimer’s Rainbow Studio and helped transform the young business into a diversified juggernaut in the architectural design sector.
In each other, Oppenheimer and Robinson found fusion. Oppenheimer was at heart an entrepreneur and was willing to entertain any notions that furthered those aspirations. “I just wanted to be in business for myself,” he said. Robinson brought experience as a darkroom master to help innovate a photo-emulsion glass etching technique that streamlined production. This enabled Rainbow Studio to secure important contracts with the likes of Holiday Inn and T.G.I. Fridays, both of whom were incorporating stained glass into new locations across the South. Hotel clients were next. Etchings by Rainbow Studio adorned elevator doors of the Bellagio and Oppenheimer soon successfully pitched his hotel clients on comprehensive etched signage throughout their properties.
Robinson’s undeniable skills as a designer gave the business an edge in the more niche and creative projects as well. In a high profile international design competition for a series of windows at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, Robinson’s renderings of religious iconography won virtually uncontested. “They told us at one of the meetings that as far as they were concerned, there was only one legitimate submission, and it was Jack’s,” Oppenheimer recalled. “He was that good.”