Building leather armor is labor of love for Texarkana man
TEXARKANA, Texas (AP) — A ranch-style house in a bucolic neighborhood on the edge of Texarkana is an unusual place to find a man making medieval and fantasy armor, but Clint Robinson is an unusual man.
The Texarkana Gazette reports tall, bald and slender, he sports a well-trimmed beard, a silver earring and an infectious smile that lights up the room when he talks about his favorite subject — making leather armor. His pleasant, tenor voice brims with excitement as he discusses it.
“I’ve always been into ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ and knights and all that kind of stuff, and years and years ago I decided I wanted to go to a Renaissance fair and I wanted to go in armor,” Robinson said.
He hunted around and bought a few things, but nothing made him happy. Next, he tried to get armor made to his specifications, but everyone told him his designs wouldn’t work. One man even told him his ideas were garbage.
It made him mad.
So he ordered some cheap leather and started wrapping paper around his head — drawing circles on it where his eyes should be — trying to make a pattern. His wife, Melissa, was laughing at him when he was doing it, they both agreed.
“And it’s just gone from there,” he said, summing up 20 years in just a few words.
At first Robinson just made bits and pieces, but eventually, he progressed to making full suits of leather armor, worn over chain mail and padding. A full suit includes the spaulders that cover the shoulders and upper arms; the cuirass, which is a series of leather pieces joined together to cover the torso; tassets, which are pieces that hang over the upper thighs; the cuisse, which are the close-fitting pieces on the thighs; the gauntlets, the pieces that cover the back of the hand up to the middle of the forearm; the greaves, which cover the shins up to the knees and down across the top of the feet; and finally the codpiece to protect the groin.
Robinson sells a suit of leather armor for around $1,700 and the helmet is separate because there are so many different designs and styles. He has a world map on the wall in his converted garage with pushpins stuck in every country his armor has been sold.
“The kids wanted to know, like, ‘Where do you sell all your stuff, Dad?’ when they were real little,” Melissa said.
They found the map and started red pinning all the places where Robinson had sold his armor. They’ve sold it in all 50 states, Australia, Canada, across Europe, Iceland, Mexico, South America, Asia, Israel and even a few pieces in Russia.
Although he hasn’t sold anything specifically for television or movies, he’s seen his work appear in background shots on the big screen as well as on TV.
He’s seen some of his pieces on The Discovery Channel on “Wreckreation Nation,” a show that highlights unusual recreational activities. They were covering a group of people who like to dress up in armor and “whale on each other.” Robinson said he was watching the show and saw several of his helmets and gauntlets being worn by the fighters.
In a 2009 movie with Christina Ricci called “All’s Faire in Love,” a man walks past her at a Renaissance fair holding one of his helmets. There was also an episode of “The Incredible Dr. Pol” on the National Geographic Channel when the vet had to go to a Renaissance fair to tend to a horse. As he was entering the fair, a man walked past the camera in a full suit of Robinson’s leather armor. Robinson says he’s also seen his stuff on fantasy shows on Netflix.
It’s not surprising Robinson’s armor is so widespread, since he’s been doing this so long, but he went “legit,” as he puts it, in 2002 as a business doing more than simply selling a few things on eBay. A few years ago he filed as an LLC under the name Oristian Subculture, a moniker he and a friend came up with over a few drinks.
Robinson does all the work of putting the armor together, but the whole family is involved in the business. He’s created armor suits for his two sons and his daughter. When they go to a Renaissance fair, it can take up to an hour for all of them to get suited up.
Putting on a suit of armor is a two-man job. Under the armor they wear padding and chain mail. The cured leather is stiff and unyielding so they have to squirm into it sideways while another person holds it up. Once it’s on, they have to spend time cinching it down tight to keep it from bouncing and chaffing.
They are a sensation at the local Renaissance fair — which sponsors hope to move from Four States Fairgrounds to Camp Preston Hunt next year. They can’t walk 10 feet without someone wanting to take a picture with them. Robinson said there are so many people stopping him that he has to start planning his bathroom breaks an hour ahead of time. He laughed and said some people even stop him while he’s in the bathroom door trying to get in.
His wife points out another hazard of wearing the armor in public — limited visibility in the helmet. She has to accompany her family and alert them to small children in their path because they can’t see them.
Hearing is limited too. People will ask them to stop for a picture, and Robinson said he sometimes walk by because he can’t hear them. Melissa said she has to raise her voice, practically shouting, to get his attention and pull him back for a photo with one of his many fans.
Robinson’s armor is used by several groups, starting with those who dress up for Renaissance fairs, then going beyond that to live action role-playing, when games such as “Dungeons & Dragons” go from the board to real-world engagement.
The Society for Creative Anachronism is a bit different. The SCA puts on full-scale medieval battles with real weapons. Because they’re using actual swords, battle axes, halberds and clubs, the armor they wear has to meet certain standards in order to be safe.
This type of armor is known as “SCA-legal” and the standards are very exacting. It requires a heavier, thicker grade of leather than Robinson normally uses, although he can make SCA-legal armor for those willing to pay for it. Many of his spaulders (the shoulder armor) are SCA-legal.
Robinson has customers who use his armor for cosplay (costume play) at conventions of various kinds. And he has made armor for people who wanted a fantasy-themed wedding.
For Robinson, who works at Cooper Tire, building leather armor is a labor of love.
Information from: Texarkana Gazette, http://www.texarkanagazette.com