Brooch Painting

Pardon, Earl
An influential educator as well as a highly inventive enamelist, Earl Pardon is best known for the deftly composed jewelry he made using brilliant enamel color in combination with silver, wood, shells, semi-precious stones, and a wide variety of other materials. Trained as an artist, he brought a painterly sensibility his work and helped elevate studio jewelry in the late 20th century to the level of fine art.  Like many artists of this period, he saw a direct parallel between his formal concerns in painting and sculpture and his related interest in wearable forms. As he stated, “I treat jewelry like I would a painting.  They are color statements more than anything else.”

Born in Tennessee, Pardon studied painting at the Memphis Academy of Art where he was awarded his BFA in 1951.  He subsequently earned an MFA at Syracuse University in 1959.  During his undergraduate years, he became interested in jewelry and enameling when he took a class from Dorothy Sturm, a noted pioneer in experimental enameling.  In the late 1940s his interest grew when he attended two of the influential workshops organized by metalsmith Margaret Craver and sponsored by Handy and Harman Precious Metal Refiners.   Although these experiences solidified his commitment to jewelry as his preferred form of expression, he continued to produce paintings and sculpture until the late 1970s.

Pardon taught metalwork and enameling at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York from 1951 until his retirement in 1989.  While there he influenced several generations of artists many who are now considered leaders in the contemporary jewelry field including Sharon Church, Arline Fisch, and Helen Shirk.

In 1954 and 1955, he took a leave of absence from his teaching responsibilities at Skidmore to serve as Director of Design at Towle Silversmiths in Newburyport, MA.  While there he developed many useful items for Towle that combine the lustrous hues of enamel with the cool austerity of silver.

Pardon’s work has been widely exhibited.  In 1952, his work was juried into the Wichita Art Association’s Decorative Arts and Ceramics Exhibition with a plaque titled Excavation.  By 1959, he was considered one of the masters of the enamels medium and was commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York to create a special piece for the watershed exhibition Enamels. The wall piece, Suspended Forms, which the museum acquired for its collection, demonstrated the painted enamel technique on silver paillons.  Six other works of his were also included in this exhibition.  In the 1960s and 1970s his enamels were regularly included in the influential ceramic exhibitions in Syracuse.  Finally, in 2015, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta organized a retrospective exhibition surveying his career and accompanied by catalogue documenting his work in various media.  Pardon’s work is now in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the High Museum of Art, Atlanta; the Museum of Arts and Design; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.