Schick Art Gallery

Earl Pardon
Biography (2008)

At the beginning of his career, Pardon began collecting art and artifacts. He was fascinated by the beauty of African and Oceanic art and objects from South and Central America. He traveled to Mexico, and in later years to Italy, looking at historical remnants that would be re-interpreted into his modern world of art, craft, and design. 

Pardon, like many colleagues in the 50's, sought common reference in the canons of modernism. This movement describes the style and theory of art from the period beginning in late 19th century until to the mid 20th century. It is closely associated with the term modern art, work that is characterized by a departure from an emphasis on literal representation. Pardon, like other modernists, embraced the newfound freedom of expression and experimentation and created art that stemmed from color and form.

Paul Cezanne, considered the "Father of Modernism," influenced Pardon's response to color. Zen painters provided a structural and spiritual vision. Pardon credits sculptor David Smith, who he visited in Bolton Landing with his Skidmore students, as a powerful influence. He believed that art jewelry owed as much to sculpture as to craft. This concept is demonstrated in Pardon's metal canvases of non-symmetrical shapes and abstractions. 

"Earl admired the work of Paul Klee, Miro and Picasso," according to his son Tod, a second-generation metalsmith. Strong evidence in the color palette of Earl's enamels suggests that he studied the work of Morris Louis, Phillip Guston, Jackson Pollack, Robert Rauschenberg, Alexander Calder, and Mark Rothko.

Pardon created with the eye of a painter. He went beyond the stretched canvas and incorporated non-traditional materials such as gold and silver, rocks, shells, ivory and ebony into his  "portable" art, Pardon's term for jewelry. Earl demanded that his work possess a quality of mystery... "having a life of its own... I loved the things you don't expect."

Upon graduation from MAA in 1951, Pardon joined the faculty at Skidmore College teaching painting, sculpture and jewelry making. He orchestrated all roles with equal energy, keeping active in academia and the art gallery community. From his studio in Saratoga Springs, NY, Pardon prepared for exhibitions of his paintings, sculpture and "portable art." Pardon and Joseph Albers were given a two-person exhibition in 1958 at Chiku-Rin Gallery, Detroit, MI. Earl's work was included in a group show at The Witherspoon Art Gallery (1960) in Greensboro, NC with that of Milton Avery, Saul Baizerman, Charles Eames, Max Ernst and Leon Golub.

Pardon contemplated opening a gallery in New York City during the 50's with Dorothy Sturm, a fellow Memphis jeweler/artist represented by Betty Parson Gallery, but he preferred the less pressured academic environment at Skidmore College. He "found teaching came naturally and without any difficulty."  

Pardon expanded his professional activities in the 50's and accepted positions at Towle and Old Newbury Crafters. His designs for the silver industry reflected the strong influence of Scandinavian modern interiors. He experimented with silver hollowware and flatware designs that incorporated wood, enamel, stainless steel, and plastic. A salt and pepper shaker, flatware (Contempra and Elan) and boxes with painterly surfaces, attest to Pardon's wide range of interest in a variety of forms. Pardon credits his training at Memphis Academy of Arts for imbuing him with confidence and with interest in all media.

Thomas Tibbs, director of The Museum of Contemporary Crafts in 1954, commissioned Pardon to construct a mural for the premier exhibition "Enamels." The collection featured historic examples of enamel work borrowed from major museums and contemporary work by Pardon's peers, including Kenneth Bates, Margret Craver, June Schwarcz, John Paul Miller and Ronald Pearson. Pardon's mural, titled "Suspended Forms," will be exhibited for the first time since its inception at the Museum of Arts and Design (formerly American Crafts Museum) in its new space, One Columbus Circle, New York City in the fall of 2008Maria Bergson, a leading interior designer of the 50's, discovered Pardon's work at the enamel exhibition. She invited him to submit a design for The Prudential Life Insurance Company Headquarters, Newark, New Jersey. His 10' x 18' "sculpture wall" of copper, bronze, and nickel modules was the winning entry, outranking several metalsmiths, including Harry Bertoia who Pardon choose as his mentor in the early years of his study. The Prudential Building remains on the Newark skyline but the only remaining trace of Pardon's sculpture wall is the maquette currently on exhibit.

In the last decade of his life, Earl left the painted canvas behind and exclusively committed himself to his jewelry, often producing a new piece a day. The advent of the micro-torch advanced his efficiency in the construction of tiny sections of enamels pinned with gold rivets.

Earl Pardon played a significant role in the evolution of 20th century studio jewelry. He mastered materials and brought his divergent interests in painting and sculpture into innovative "portable" art.

Rosanne Raab, Exhibition Curator