Robert Ebendorf and Joe Price have been pen pals for quite a while, but in the midst of the pandemic, their correspondence leveled up. They went from swapping postcards and collages to trading packages full of in-process brooches and pendants. In Santa Fe, Bob would use his legendary metalwork skills to transform jar lids into wearable objects, and then pack them into boxes full of unconventional art materials. In South Carolina, Joe would comb through these treasure chests and use his formidable beading skills to complete Bob’s compositions. It's a conversational process that Bob describes as a "studio dance." The result is a brand new jewelry collection, JoeBob, that’s a witty and colorful tribute to a 20-year friendship.
“Since I’m not a professional artist, it was very intimidating to work with such an established, well-known and historical figure,” Joe says of the collaboration. “However, being the ultimate educator, Bob relieved the pressure by encouraging me to be ‘playful.’” Read more of our interview with Bob and Joe below, and make sure to browse their new body of work. Bob has also been hard at work on several new series, including a solo project called Boxes of Curiosity that serves as a spiritual companion to JoeBob.
Robert Ebendorf & Joe Price, JoeBob Necklace 4.
what are the roots of the JoeBob collaboration?
Joe : The JoeBob jewelry collaboration was a natural progression for us. Bob and I have been sending collages to each other for over a decade. Sometimes a collage from one of us speaks to the other, and the other adds his voice to the original collage and returns it to the originator. Next, Bob invited me to be his assistant at a workshop titled “In the Box.” The purpose of the class was to use found objects to create collages or assemblages in a cigar box. Participating in this class helped to expand my design and composition sense.
Bob, what did you recognize in Joe’s artistry that intrigued you?
Bob: First of all, Joe is a scholar who’s well-versed in the history of personal adornment. I’ve had many in-depth conversations with him about the field. In his own studio practice, he has vast experience working with glass beads. So he has a keen color sense, and a knack for playful composition. I’ve always found his deep sense of curiosity so compelling.
So, how did all of this mutual admiration spark into a collaboration?
Joe: Bob enthusiastically suggested a project in which we would make jewelry in jar lids. Bob used his technical jewelry skills to prepare the jar lid such that it could be worn as a piece of jewelry, whether that be a brooch or pendant. We shared found objects with each other. Bob would send a box with prepared jar lids, some would have a found object positioned in the jar lid while others would be empty with lots of found objects to be considered. I would then take the piece and add my vision to it using a variety of found objects from each of us and materials including beads, chains, resin, glitter and stain.
Robert Ebendorf & Joe Price, JoeBob Necklace3 (verso).
Did formalizing your collaboration have anything to do with being cooped up as the pandemic unfolded?
Bob: During the pandemic, so many artist friends have reached out to one another, and oftentimes projects have sprung forth. It was a way of feeling the closeness of a friendship, and also walking the creative road together. For Joe and I, it generated rich emails or phone conversations as our studio dance grew.
Joe: Having the privilege of being in a long-term (39-year) relationship with a doctor definitely relieved a lot of the stress for me associated with the pandemic. He was constantly reading medical articles and medical journals to ensure we were following all the appropriate protocols. The pandemic definitely encouraged the JoeBob project as it was much easier to focus on the project, since external activities were very limited. Lots of people where we live did not appear to take the pandemic seriously as their behaviors did not change. Therefore, my spouse and I tried to limit our external activities. Our creative playtime was in our jewelry studio. For the past couple of years, Ron has been taking jewelry classes at the University of South Carolina. He has now created a studio with lots of tools and equipment that I use in my collaborations with Bob.
It sounds like all of the pieces were in place for an epic collaboration, apart from one complication: Bob lives in Santa Fe, and Joe is in South Carolina. That makes JoeBob a mail art project. Bob, what do you love about mail art (which you’ve made throughout your career)?
Bob: Because I’m not very computer literate, and not able to respond by email, I have found making my own postcards with paper, glue and stamps to be a spiritual practice that I enjoy daily. Postcard art has a deep history, and so many people have entered that arena. So I guess I just stepped in line, had a ticket, and got on the train. The JoeBob collection went beyond the postcard and postage stamp, it was a deep investigation of different materials and jewelry skills.
Joe, as you mentioned before, you would receive partially finished objects and raw materials from Bob, and use your beading skills to complete the artworks. Did you enjoy rounding out each piece, and how did you know when something was done?
Joe: As with my collages, I have a vision for what colors, shapes, patterns and materials complete the piece. I enjoy the challenges Bob sends me with each box. Some pieces I immediately utilize as I can easily create something. Others, I put to the side until I find my inspiration. Unlike Bob, who quickly decides the design layout for his pieces, my process usually takes longer as I may have no initial design vision for the piece. Usually it’s very easy for me to know when a piece is complete as I feel satisfied and happy. If I’m not sure, I will put it aside until I make my decision.
Robert Ebendorf & Joe Price, JoeBob Brooch 4.
What were some of the joys and challenges of engaging in such a close collaborative process with another artist?
Joe: Since I’m not a professional artist, it was very intimidating to work with such an established, well-known and historical figure. However, being the ultimate educator, Bob relieved the pressure by encouraging me to be “playful.” He compared our new project to our previous projects, saying we were just exploring a new medium. Bob always provides praise and recognition while also sharing constructive criticism as to how things could improve.
Bob: It was a great surprise to see how Joe interfaced with the component parts that I would send, and also his sense of composition and playfulness. In turn, he would send me boxes of parts that I might choose to work with.
Do you remember a particular package that made you gasp when you opened it?
Joe: For anyone who knows Bob, that is an extremely difficult question to answer. Bob is extremely prolific and creative while working/playing at his jeweler’s bench. Bob has probably sent me hundreds of items to consider in our collaborations. With each new box, I have a new favorite which is then surpassed by the next box from Bob. In general, my favorite pieces are when Bob manipulates or combines multiple found objects.
Bob: There were a number of pieces that struck me, with their beautiful blending of glass beads and sense of color relationships. Joe was able to bring a subtlety to the work that was so beautiful. Quiet, but with such depth.
You two have been friends and colleagues for decades. What’s one good memory of Bob outside of the Joe Bob collaboration?
Bob: I’ve particularly enjoyed many long car trips going to an art event, or perhaps going to teach a class together. Those hours gave us time to step way back to childhood and to the present. The beauty of honesty, the warmth of friendship and the open heart of love has been greatly experienced.
Joe: That is another very difficult question. We’ve known Bob by reputation for over 40 years and we’ve been friends for over 20 years. There are so many wonderful memories, it’s hard to select just one. However, one that stands out is when Bob came to visit us for a week. It was a very relaxing and rewarding visit. It gave us the opportunity to have long discussions in person. We were able to hear Bob retrace lots of his early memories and experiences. We even made a recording with Bob about the specifics of his creative process. This recording has now been given to the Mint Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Robert Ebendorf & Joe Price, JoeBob Necklace 2.