Eleanor Glover

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Eleanor Glover is a complex character. As well as working in graphics and book design, she has spent time as a Community Development Officer in Sri Lanka, has run a home support group for the elderly in Bristol and taught dance and art. She now spends more time on her calligraphy and sculptures, but her previous varied experiences have given her a strong understanding of human nature and feed directly into her work, a powerful - often dark - mix of humour, pathos and the macabre skilfully moulded into an emotionally charged whole.
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You originally trained as a graphic designer, what made you change track and decide to become a maker?

My first job was as a signing systems designer and then as a junior designer I worked on the Readers Digest book Things to Make and Do. The book featured toys made by Ron Fuller and I was so inspired by handling them that I ran away to become his apprentice. I had always loved Eastern European toys and working with wood and I realised that graphic design was not the right place for me. After my apprenticeship I made my own range of toys for a while, but I always put too much of myself into the pieces spending too long on them so they were never really economically viable. I gradually veered off from mass production and started making more and more sculptures which allowed me to tell individual stories.

As well as making sculptures you also do a lot of calligraphy. How important is this strand of your work to you?

The interest in lettering goes back to my graphic design and book design background. I have always been interested in words and I read a lot, especially poetry. I do brush calligraphy on wood but I am not trained as a calligrapher – it’s an interest which has developed from my own heart and my need to say things. For example a recent piece was about endangered species of birds, something I feel very strongly about. It’s important for me to work on texts that mean something to me personally as it makes the work more engaging and enlivening – otherwise I would just be a glorified sign writer. I am currently doing a big lettering commission for the Royal United Hospital in Bath, writing a poem by their former poet in residence Rose Flint on an enormous wooden panel.

How do you make your sculptures?

It’s quite a haphazard process although my toy-making training was very good discipline and taught me a lot about making. I normally start off with some scribbled drawings rather than plans. They are usually about an idea that I have been mulling over for some time but they are not exact descriptions of that idea. I might then cut out an old cornflakes packet and glue pieces back together to see the form the idea might take and then I will make the piece in the wood. I make my work out of lots of different pieces – rather than sculpting from a single block - and I constantly play around with the different elements until the sculpture has the expression and life I need. There is always one exact point where it will come alive – this is why I don’t want to make automata as I want my sculptures to stay in the precise position where they express exactly what I want them to express.

Is it true that narrative plays a big role in your work?

My pieces all tell stories. Communicating ideas is really important to me and I get a lot of pleasure out of passing on my ideas to the people who buy my work. I used to integrate lettering directly in my sculptures but I now do that less as I like to make the pieces speak for themselves. They often refer to things that have happened to me in the past or engage with my emotions about past losses, while some look towards the future in a more positive way. I true to communicate these messages as honestly and simply as possible as when I get to the core of my own feelings, I find that I’m communicating best, because if I am really truthful about my own life then it’s more likely to touch the viewer’s.

What materials do you like working with best?

I have always loved working with wood. At college I would find rejected pieces of wood and draw or write on them. I’m attracted to the variability of wood and the fact that each piece has its own life. But I’m an image maker so I don’t let the wood get in the way of the narrative – it’s a partnership between me and the material. Also, even though I love working with wood, the material is a means not an end as, for me, it’s the communication of an idea which is important. This is why I would call myself a maker not a craftsman as the material is always secondary to the idea.

What would you say were you main sources of inspiration?

I learnt a huge amount from Ron Fuller, but the toy maker and sculptor Sam Smith was an even bigger influence on my work. He supported me though all my ups and downs and I felt really in tune with his attitude towards narrative – we had a great feeling of companionship. Eastern European toys are also a great influence as they have such a special spirit and the poetry I read is really important to me. I am also interested by true outsider or vernacular art, in other words the things normal people make like the decorations for shrines in India or even the way people hang their washing up.

How do you see your work developing?

I hope to work more closely with Art in Health, trying to use my calligraphic work to improve the environment in hospitals. I am currently working on a commission for Royal United Hospital Bath. As for my sculptural work, I want to continue along the same lines that I am working on now, but I would like to develop more informality and vivacity in the work in an aim to find the child in myself – as Picasso said, ‘It takes a long time to become young.’