Robert “Bob” Ebendorf is among the most well respected leaders in the contemporary metals field. His highly inventive jewelry designs that combine found objects with deftly composed metal, have exerted a profound impact on the contemporary jewelry field. Ebendorf recently described his use of repurposed objects as a means of investing new life in the ordinary: “The jewelry and objects are not simply about refashioning the mundane. They reaffirm the value of something which otherwise might be without value. By reassessing the meaning of artifacts of daily life, they often reverse the idea of what is precious. If one of the purposes of artistic expression is to locate and reaffirm values in our world, then my work is all the more relevant as a mode of contemporary expression.” For Ebendorf, celebrating the commonplace – finding delight in everyday things – is a philosophy of life as well as an artistic practice.
Robert Ebendorf was born in Topeka, Kansas in 1938. Throughout his youth he was close to his grandparents. They ran a tailor shop and their dedication to handwork had a formative influence on his interest in making things, particularly wearable forms. After exploring art in high school, he attended the University of Kansas in Lawrence where he studied design with Robert Montgomery and metals with Carlyle Smith, head of the metals program. He was awarded his BFA in metal and jewelry design in 1960 and his MFA in three-dimensional design in 1962. After completing his graduate studies, he was awarded a Fulbright scholarship that enabled him to attend the State School for Applied Arts and Crafts in Oslo, Norway (1963 – 1964). While there, he was exposed to the finest levels of European craftsmanship and metalwork.
In Oslo he also learned about enameling both its contemporary practice and its distinguished history. Ebendorf had first been exposed to enameling at the University of Kansas through a one-semester class given by Robert Montgomery. He also visited the annual craft exhibitions at the Wichita Center for the Arts where he saw enamel jewelry by Mary Kretsinger and John Paul Miller. However, in Norway he had an opportunity to explore enameling in greater depth and developed a keen interest in the history of the field particularly enameling of the early 20th-century Arts and Crafts period.
After receiving a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation grant, he returned to Norway in 1965 – 1966 and worked at Norway Silver Design in Frederikstad. There he developed an in-depth understanding of shop practices and the importance of teamwork to the production process.
An inspiring educator, Ebendorf has taught at the University of Georgia, Athens (1967 – 1971); State University of New York: New Paltz (1971 – 1989); East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina (1997 - 2016); and led numerous classes and workshops throughout the country. His passion and his commitment to nurturing young talent has enlivened the field and brought a vibrant young generation of makers to jewelry, metals, and enameling. While best known for his wearable assemblages, Ebendorf has throughout his life had an abiding interest in enameling and at various points in his career he has delved deeply into the medium’s beauty, mystery, and power.
Between 2001 and 2012, Ebendorf spent summers as a guest professor at the University of the West of England in Bristol. He was invited by the eminent British enamelist Elizabeth Turrell and the time he spent there served to deepen his interest in enameling. Most of Ebendorf’s work in the Enamel Arts Foundation collection was produced while he was in residence in England.
Robert Ebendorf’s work has been widely exhibited and is in the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Victoria & Albert Museum, London.