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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Confetti Colors

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A full spectrum of colors—hues ranging from bright sunrise to muted sunset—awakens the imagination in an exhibition and special event at the Racine Art Museum (RAM) and the Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM) this weekend.

In a premiere retrospective opening April 13, the RAM features the artwork of Earl Pardon, a painter, industrial designer and jeweler. The exhibition, “Earl Pardon: Palette Maestro,” reveals the expertise and ingenuity in the lifework of an artist that impacted the craft from the 1950s until his death in 1991.

Pardon, a lifelong SkidmoreCollege professor in New York, created designs in sterling silver hollowware for Towle Silversmiths and Old Newbury Crafters on the East Coast. In his own studio, however, his original jewelry melded industrial design with the abstract expressionism that dominated the 1950s and ’60s. His diminutive three-dimensional paintings in the forms of brooches, neck collars and bracelets display an exceptional mastery of enamels. In fact, Pardon became a major factor in the rebirth of enameling as a medium.

By applying techniques like riveting, bezel setting and metal appliqu in jewelry making, Pardon fashioned miniature expressionistic pieces from ebony, mother of pearl, gold, silver and semiprecious stones. Intricate inlaid sequences of ebony and lustrous pearl in zebra stripes border an explosion of colors. The fine arts of painting and sculpture may have overshadowed craft in this period, but Pardon’s entire collection of jewelry delighted wearers and viewers with its joyous outburst of confetti colors.

“Craftsmen always seemed to be the poor stepchildren of the fine art world—everyone wanted to talk about painting at this time,” says RAM Executive Director Bruce Pepich. “Now younger people collect design objects from the ’50s and ’60s, finding this crossover between the machine and hand-made, this sense of living design, important.”

To illustrate this crossover, local artist Leslie Perrino demonstrates enameling techniques on Saturday, April 19. For more information, call (262) 636-9177.

Celebrating art and flowers in every imaginable hue, MAM’s Garden Club hosts “Art in Bloom.” This four-day event, from Thursday, April 10, through Sunday, April 13, centers on 30 bouquets created by elite Milwaukee-area florists to coordinate with artwork in the MAM's collection. These grand floral arrangements, to be shown next to specific paintings, will be honored with prizes by professionals and through the public's People's Choice Awards.

Lectures, workshops, docent-led tours, art classes, an art auction and Friday evening’s “Cocktails and Blooms” are just a few of the intriguing activities for artists and gardeners throughout the weekend. Although a majority of the presentations are free with admission to MAM, workshops and receptions require additional fees and registration. For information or reservations, call (414) 224-3803.