East Carolina University art professor Robert Ebendorf has been honored with a lifetime achievement award by a group he helped found more than 40 years ago.
Ebendorf, an internationally known master metalsmith and jewelry designer, received the Society of North American Goldsmiths Lifetime Achievement Award. It’s the highest honor given by the society to individuals who have made significant contributions to the field of contemporary jewelry and metalsmithing throughout their careers.
Ebendorf helped found the 43-year-old organization and served as its president for nine years. The society has grown from 64 original members to more than 3,000 studio artists, educators, students and others working in metals, alternative materials, and contemporary art, design and jewelry.
“The award is very humbling,” Ebendorf said. “The acknowledgement from my peers means a great deal.”
Ebendorf's artwork often comes from found pieces, including discarded aluminum cans, as shown above.
Trained as a professional goldsmith, Ebendorf’s designs incorporate cast-off objects, making used things new again, while pairing unusual items like board game pieces and tin. He often finds inspiration and trash-bound discoveries on his daily walks between his home and the Jenkins Fine Arts Center.
Take a crushed soda can. He turned a can into a brooch, which led to “Keep It in the Can,” his latest exhibition featuring a series of pins made from discarded aluminum cans.
“I’m fearless about putting broken glass or bone or pieces of road kill together with a pearl or gemstone,” Ebendorf said.
“Problem-solving for me is the exciting journey,” he said. “Taking an idea and bringing it into form - what skills do I use to bring this idea into reality?”
As ECU’s Belk Distinguished Professor of Art, Ebendorf is often asked to speak at seminars, conferences and universities across the country.
“In that role, he has really enhanced the reputation of our School of Art and Design and of our university,” said J. Christopher Buddo, dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communication. “He wears his ECU colors proudly. He is a wonderful ambassador for ECU and we are so fortunate to have him with us.”
It’s during guest talks that Ebendorf shares his own experience as an art student and his lifelong struggle with dyslexia. A Topeka, Kansas, native, he received his bachelor of fine arts in 1960 and a master of fine arts in 1962 from the University of Kansas. It was there that he saw a flier for a Fulbright award – something he thought went only to scholars and not to students in danger of flunking courses, he said. He eventually put his fear aside and applied, receiving a Fulbright Fellowship to Norway, which changed his life, he said.
“Take a chance. Don’t count yourself out of the ballgame; you need to give it a try,” he said. “I think that’s where mentoring comes in for me.”
Ebendorf has taught undergraduate and graduate students for the past 16 years at ECU.
“Passing on to them technical information, scholarly pursuits and how to work with others, has been a real joy,” he said. “Helping them develop their own voice and the social skills to leave the university and become responsible in their own community.”
Four years after receiving the Fulbright, Ebendorf returned to Norway through a Louis Comfort Tiffany Grant.
Before joining ECU, Ebendorf taught at the University of Georgia and State University of New York at New Paltz.
Examples of Ebendorf’s work are in 29 museums around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Smithsonian Institution in D.C., The Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Through the years, he has completed large commissions for corporations, temples, churches and private clientele.
In 1995, Ebendorf was awarded the American Craft Council Fellowship for his achievement in craft and commitment to the craft movement. He received the 2010 North Carolina Award, the state’s highest civilian honor. He was recently invited by the Smithsonian Institution to participate in its Archives of American Art Oral History Program. He’s also helped raise funds for art scholarships at ECU; there is an endowed scholarship in his name.
The Society of North American Goldsmiths supports and advances the professional practice of artists, designers, jewelers and metalsmiths through education, innovation and leadership. To learn more, visit http://www.snagmetalsmith.org/.
The Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of North American Goldsmiths honors contributions to the field of contemporary jewelry and metalsmithing.