I recently attended a symposium run by Jessica Turrell a Research Fellow at UWE.Bristol, to view and discuss new research into ideas and techniques for making vitreous enamel more readily available for jewellers. At the end of the day the delegates were invited to view work by Robert Ebendorf, the Carol Grotnes Belk Distinguished Professor for the School or Art at East Carolina University, hereafter known as Bob. He had been conducting an applied arts workshop at the Enamel Research department which culminated in the symposium.
Working as a teacher, metal smith and jeweller Bob Ebendorf has been a major influence on the American craft movement since the 1960’s and is notable for his use of found objects – it was a radical departure from the traditions of jewellry making in the 1970’s when he pioneered the use of non – precious materials (think road-kill and rubbish) with conventional jewellry making techniques and materials. His work is rich and expressive and covers jewellry, assemblages, drawings and objects.
The work he displayed was as amusing and disturbing as it was desirable. Sparkling jewels adorn and glowing metals encase bones, stones, broken glass and plastics with fresh water pearls, enamel badges and bijou jewellry. When I first saw them I thought ” well these are glamorous – but what am I looking at? On close inspection the sparkling jewels are old paste brooches in leery colours and the metals are squashed and rusted tins, but all are put together with purposeful, elegant and traditional jewellers’ techniques. The effect is reminiscent of tiny collages or appliques of glistening fabrics. Rich patterns collide and overlap on charred and rusting metal, his balance is precarious but it never falters.
I think many textile makers have flirted with the idea of making jewellry, I certainly have, embroidery and jewellry can share the same small-scale, precious, decorative qualities – but what is always a swine to deal with and often the weakness that lets the whole effect down – is the finish.The backings in particular are so hard to organise and make stable, also the back of a brooch can be more personal than the front, only the wearer sees it, or the person who gives it. So turning these curious designs over it was reassuring and an added pleasure to see the consideration to the finish of each piece.