Gov. Beverly Perdue presents the North Carolina Award for Fine Arts to Bob Ebendorf.
ECU art professor receives North Carolina Award
Bob Ebendorf is among six North Carolinians to receive the state's highest civilian honor.
(Oct. 8, 2010)
An East Carolina University professor known internationally for his designs with found and repositioned objects was honored Oct. 7 for his contributions in the arts field.
Art professor Robert “Bob” Ebendorf is among six North Carolinians to receive the state’s highest civilian honor, the North Carolina Award. Gov. Beverly Perdue and the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources Secretary Linda Carlisle presented the awards at the N.C. Museum of History.
“The North Carolina Award celebrates creativity and innovation, two values which sustain our economy, our culture and our people,” said Perdue. “We are proud to add the names of these six outstanding North Carolinians for their singular contributions to our state.”
Ebendorf has been a leader in the studio jewelry movement since the early 1960s and is world renowned as an artist and teacher. In addition to gold, silver, and bronze, unusual materials such as fossils, animal claws, or even soda pop pull tops find their way into his creations.
For Ebendorf the honor is a complete surprise. “I had no idea. This came totally out of the blue. I don’t even know anyone on the committee,” he said recently in his home studio, where his workbench is covered in the tools of his trade along with broken pieces of jewelry and a blue-and-white porcelain plate, found objects such as buttons, and gemstones.
“I didn’t even know much about the award and what an honor it is until you look at the past recipients, the leaders in their fields, the scholars, and their contributions to the state of North Carolina,” he said.
Previous honorees in Fine Arts included painter Francis Speight, musician James Taylor, jazz great Billy Taylor, actor Andy Griffith, painter Bob Timberlake, and folk and bluegrass music legend “Doc” Watson.
Ebendorf’s work is found in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Smithsonian Institution, the Mint Museum in Charlotte, and the Victoria Albert Museum in London. Ebendorf was the recipient of a Fulbright grant to study in Norway in 1963, and three years later, was awarded a Louis Comfort Tiffany grant to work for Norway Silver Design. He holds a master’s degree in fine arts from the University of Kansas and was one of the founding members of the Society of North American Goldsmiths.
He came to ECU in 1997 as a visiting lecturer and was named the Carol Grotnes Belk Distinguished Professor of Art in 1999. As part of that position, Ebendorf teaches graduate and undergraduate classes, including design and metals. “As the Belk professor, I’m charged with traveling to speak at museums and committees. I take that responsibility seriously as an ambassador of the university,” he said.
A trained goldsmith, Ebendorf began his career producing many pieces for temples and churches along with university office medallions. He said, “In the 1960s, I began working with found materials – broken jewelry, broken glass, found metal, even chicken bones – taking those materials that would have gone to the landfill and using those as I did gold. Some museum curators have called me an ‘outlaw.’
“I’m always gathering found objects, usually while walking between home and the School of Art. It’s not usual that they will find their way into my jewelry,” Ebendorf said.
At the university, a scholarship to honor Ebendorf is being planned for the School of Art to benefit an outstanding student entering the graduate-degree Metal Design program. A fundraising dinner and silent auction of donated jewelry made by ECU School of Art alumni will be held Nov. 13 at Rock Springs Center.
Created by the General Assembly in 1961, the North Carolina Awards have been presented annually since 1964. The award recognizes significant contributions to the state and nation in the fields of fine arts, literature, public service and science.
Earlier this week, Ebendorf planned to escort his wife, Aleta, and their daughter, Brittany who lives in New York City and is pursuing a master’s degree in nonprofit management after years of working in Africa, and his guest Dr. Charlotte B. Wainwright, the former director of the Gregg Museum at N.C. State University, to the awards ceremony. Wainwright was “the champion,” Ebendorf said, of that museum’s retrospective exhibition of his work, the majority of which went on to the Smithsonian.
Additional 2010 recipients include Attorney Mike Leonard of Winston-Salem, for his work with conservation-oriented land use in the state; Margaret S. “Tog” Newman of Winston-Salem, for a life of service and leadership in arts and culture; F. Ivy Carroll, a leading scientist in the field of medicinal chemistry at Research Triangle Park; High Point resident Carole Boston Weather, an award-winning poet and children’s book author; and Asheville native Donald Sultan, celebrated as a painter, sculptor, designer and printmaker.