Earl Pardon (1926-1991)

Acclaimed metalsmith and jewelry designer, Earl Pardon was a major contributor to the rise of American studio jewelry in the second half of the twentieth century. Born in Memphis in 1926, Pardon served in World War II and then attended the Memphis Academy of Art for his undergraduate degree in painting and his initial training in metalsmithing. After graduating from the academy in 1951, he joined the faculty of Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York, where he remained an influential art professor until his retirement in 1989. In the 1950s, Pardon began designing silver items for commercial firms such as Towle Silversmiths of Newburyport, Massachusetts. In 1959, he received his MFA from Syracuse University.

Pardon brought the sensitivity of a modernist painter to his metalwork and jewelry; certainly he gained his greater reputation in the latter. He often described his bracelets and necklaces as portable works of art. Some biographers credit Pardon with having played a significant role in the revival of the art of enameling, since he incorporated enamel-colored stones and beads to create the effect of costly gems in his jewelry. His obituary in the New York Times on May 4, 1991, noted: “he used enamel like an artist’s canvas, painting abstract patterns on it.”

The first major retrospective exhibit about Pardon’s design legacies--some three hundred works--took place at Skidmore College in 1980. After his death in 1991, a series of commemorative exhibitions about Pardon’s work took place in such prominent New York venues as the Aaron Faber Gallery. His designs may be found in major national collections, such as the Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C., and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Pardon’s work also was highlighted in the influential traveling exhibit “Messengers of Modernism: American Studio Jewelry, 1940-1960,” which was curated by the Montreal Museum of Decorative Arts in the late 1990s.

Published » January 05, 2010