The work of Robly Glover

Archetypal images in sheet-constructed holloware, the vessels of Robly Glover give concrete form to the most ethereal and intuitive of content. Fascinated by the notion of unconscious predilections that from the unfathomable recesses of the mind murmur their incessant persuasion over actions, Glover is an implicit Jungian. H

is work tacitly acknowledges both the reality of the soul and its nonsensory receptiveness to rhythms in nature and the influence of events from the remote past. Venuses, bull’s heads, crescent moons, and magical birds appear in his vessels as the material signs of a psychical life rooted in the ancient experience of the human race. At the same time, this imagery is elaborated through a clarity of edge and a fixation on the profiles of cubic mass that betray an affinity for modern machinery.

It is, in fact, the odd combination of esoteric spirituality and technological precision that provides the clue to aspirations in Glover’s work that are only tangentially related to aesthetics and have even less to do with utility. His resurrection of the archetype in contemporary guise can ultimately be linked to a more general postmodern investment in holistic and panpsychic cosmologies as alternatives to the dualistic worldview inherent to modern scientism.

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Elemental Brooch
Sterling silver, die formed and constructed
3 1/4″ x 2 1/4″ x 1/8″

In its popular, and more dubious, variation, the current interest in archetypes has been closely associated with the New Age movement, which began in the 1980s as a fascination with the esoterica of Eastern mysticism and Western occultism. In its more intellectually viable form, the study of archetypes has given strength to the project of “reenchanting” the world that has been urgently advocated by proponents of “constructive postmodernism” such as David Ray Griffin [1] and Suzi Gablik.

For these thinkers, reinvestment in the faculties of intuition and unconscious predilection is clearly strategic. If social disintegration and ecological destruction are the consequences of contemporary alienation, they argue, then reestablishing a sense of continuity with a larger social and natural whole is imperative. Cultivating a profound sense of the spiritual unity of all things may, in fact, be the only alternative to succumbing to the debilitating social pathology that Gablik has described as “‘contingency sickness,’ a disorder of the modern world that results from being deprived of meaningful ritual or any contact with the great archetypes that nourish the life of the soul.” [2]

Glover’s vessels professed talismans for an enervated spirituality express an implicit sympathy with the constructive-postmodernist project. In the face of an increasingly relativistic social ethic, he contends, there is “nowhere left to turn but back to the internal sense of spirit.” If atheistic materialism and the detached rationality of science have diminished the energy of the soul, then elaboration of a contemporary mythology of positive spiritual consequence is vital. Glover’s work is a part of this mythologizing process, an earnest effort to regain a sense of both the mystery of life and of his place within a meaningful living cosmos. If this goal sounds utopian or, worse yet, naive – it is perhaps a measure of how cynical our modern worldview has become.

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Glover harbors no illusions about the ability of his work to effect a massive social transformation, nor does he envision any kind of widespread return to premodern spiritual beliefs. His more modest goal concerns the making of objects that indulge his desire for mystery in the world without denying the usefulness of rationality or the importance of simple day-to-clay existence. “For me,” he explains, “a good w work of art exists on all levels, from the banal to the intellectual to the spiritual.”

Venus of the Furrow, 1998
Bronze, silver soldered, sawdust patinaton
8″ x 4″ x 1 1/2″
Photo: Robert Suddarth

This conviction accounts for the fact that nearly all of Glover’s w works are technically, if not always practically, utilitarian. It also justifies the apparent discrepancies between aspects of their structure. Although Glover’s vessels reflect a methodical precision of construction, their bounding, lilting, lyrical contours–the vibrant lines where planes meet planes in a confluence of energy- are the antithesis of plodding reason. As in Matisse’s jazz series of the 1940s, the edges of the flat shapes in Glover’s works are the boundaries of a concentrated life force, the distilled energy that the other, more rigid qualities of his forms are designed to contain and preserve. For Glover, the three-dimensional form of the vessel provides a rational structure, but the profile is infused with spirit and enjoys a life of its own.

This animation, a kind of peristalsis of the profile, is achieved through an exacting attention to contours. “If you mote the line a few millimeters either way,” he observes, “it’s going to go flat. The profile would lose the quality of a breath. If con watch somebody as they breathe, you’ll notice a fullness at the height of inhalation. That’s the effect that I’m trying to accomplish. I want my work to be swelled with energy and life.”

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Glover traces his association of the mysterious energy of life with breath and the contours of forms to memories of a childhood spent on a forty-acre farm in rural Illinois . Among the animals bred by the family were Old English mastiffs, robust dogs that sometimes produced prodigious litters. In conformance with the harsher tenets of natural selection, an exhausted mastiff mother would often leave a certain number of her helpless newborns to suffocate in amniotic fluid. Glover vividly remembers intervening in the natural course of things by rupturing the amnions, clearing the mouths and nostrils of the lethargic pups and literally shaking the breath into them. The magic of witnessing the first inhalation animate the tiny bodies exerted a powerful influence over him. Early on, this sense of swelling life became associated in his mind with the clarity of outlines, a result of encountering Neolithic symbols in a favorite childhood book, The Epic of Man. In a particularly striking illustration from this Time-Life classic, antlered cave dwellers engage in mysterious ritual beneath the crisply painted outline of a human hand. “I was full of Bible stories,” Glover remembers, “but these compelling images made the aware of the mysteries of human life in the even greater past.”

Although indoctrination into archetypal pal psychology was for Glover a gradual and largely fortuitous process, his exploration of the symbolism and paraphernalia of mysticism through his work in metals began as a conscious endeavor while an undergraduate at Indiana State University, Terre Haute, in the early 1980s. The seminal inspirations for his earliest series were religious reliquaries, sacred receptacles for spiritually charged artifacts. Glover’s introduction to these opulent accoutrements of Catholicism came as a result of his brief involvement with a young woman who was attending a religiously affiliated college in Terre Haute . In her company he entered a Catholic church for the first time and was deeply moved by the experience. “We went down to the basement where the Sisters who founded the school were buried,” be remembers, “And there in the crypt under the high altar were all the reliquaries. I’d never seen one before. Those beautiful metal objects filled with magical, spiritual things were amazing to me, so I started making some of my own.”

Flowing Venus, 1997
Bronze, silver soldered, sawdust patination
10″ x 5″ x 1″
Photo: Robert Suddarth

While the profiles of the quintessential box-­form reliquary clearly appealed to Glover, their attraction only reinforced a distinctive sense of design that he had long possessed. Enamored of discrete profiles-, Glover continued his exploration of their expressive potential at Indiana University in Bloomington , where he began his graduate studies in 1953. His earliest work in flat-sheet construction was undertaken at that time, partly as a consequence of the anxiety over expediency that frequently plagues new M.P.A. students. “My colleagues in the program were taking months or longer to complete a single piece,” he recalls. “I wanted to develop a quicker way of working, of getting my ideas across.”

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Leda, 2001
Sterling silver
5 1/2″ x 12 1/2″ x 2 3/4″
Photo: Robert Suddart

As is often the case, some of the most enduring consequences of Glover’s graduate school experience derived from interaction with other students, particularly Tom Muir, under whose tutelage he perfected his soldering skills. Muir was engaged in some intriguing experiments with lamp design, and he and Glover soon launched a friendly rivalry that was facetiously dubbed “the macho lamp competition.”

Despite the implications, however, Glover’s designs reflected more of a detached fascination with power than a flexing of his own muscles. from David Peterson, who had been a graduate student at Indiana State, Terre Haute, he had acquired a near obsessive interest in the movie Star Wars, and this influence began to exert itself through the high tech, robotic style of his lamps. “I’d seen the movie as many as a dozen times,” he explains, “and when I started making lamps, I was thinking about Star Wars droids, totemic mechanical figures. I wanted them to radiate heat. They weren’t just light sources. They were about an awe-inspiring power.”

Howling Pregnant Tea Thing, 1945
Sterling silver
5 1/2″ x 8 1/2″ x 3″
Photo: Robert Suddarth

StarWars , aptly described by Fredric Jameson as “metonymically a historical or nostalgia film,” [3] was for Glover clearly more than an engrossing futuristic fantasy. It was a spiritual restorative, diminishing a nebulous sense of emptiness in the lives of its audience. Like other movie, of its time and genre including E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind — its compelling images of light and energy indulged a deep-seated longing to embrace the repressed archetype of an omnipresent spirit.

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As for so many other devotees of the film, the potency of Star Wars’ mythical imagery reinforced in Glover a feeling of cosmological purpose that has, in more abstract form, continued to sustain him in time, of crisis. During a recent medical examination (which proved him perfectly healthy), his ruminations on the greater scheme of things crystallized around an intuited sense of energy flow. As he lay on an operating table, captivated by an x-ray monitor displacing the image of his oven dye-injected beating heart, his mind filled with thought, “of lightning branching across the sky, of river systems and the veins in a leaf.”

Howling Double-Horned Spring Thing, 2001
Sterling silver
11″ x 8 1/4″ x 2 1/2″
Photo: Robert Suddarth

This idea of cosmological units, even divine raison d’etre, had proved particularly comforting to Glover when after completing Iris M.F.A. in 1987 and accepting his current teaching position at Texas Tech University , he found himself for the first time in unfamiliar surroundings. The strange emptiness of the West Texas plains exacerbated the feelings of loneliness and vulnerability occasioned by the geographical separation from his wife, metalsmith Nancy Slagle, who was filling a temporary position at the University of Michigan . Glover’s, reaction to his increasing sense of isolation was to seek solace in myth, immersing himself in the writings of Joseph Campbell. He was particularly impressed by the archetype of the earth mother goddess and felt strangely drawn to images of feminine power such as the Venus of Willendorf. “Women have always been an important part of my life,” he explains, “and I was already attuned to what’s been called ‘mother magic.’ On the farm I’d watched my mother bring mall annuals back to life through her knowledge of how to care for them. She really held the power of life and death.”

In the fall of 1957, under the influence of Campbell ‘s absorbing writings and the magnetic qualities of prehistoric fertility figures, Glover began an important series of mass sheet­-constituted votive forms patinated in mottled verdure or rust hues to heighten the impression of their antiquity. In varying degrees of abstraction, the female body emerged as the dominant element in these works, often in combination with symbols of fecundity, birth, and the cultivation of the soil. The influence of Glover’s own agricultural heritage combined in these works with his intuited sense of the potency of ancient bonds between human beings and the earth. As a consequence, the series deepened his reflections on the place of humanity in the larger cosmos and even suggested an ecologically pragmatic purpose for reinvestment in the archetype of a living, nurturing earth. “We’ve forgotten the. centrality of the earth,” he says. “I think we have to return to the sense of an earth mother goddess or we’ll kill ourselves. We need to relearn how to live with nature. I realize that’s a romantic idea, but I think that if you approach it in an intellectual way and recognize the consequences of a reverence for the earth… it could sate our planet and our future.”

Despite the reactionary tone of these musings, Glover is no technological Luddite. His commitment to advances in science and the development of high-tech solutions to the principal problems of life is reflected in the surfaces of his recent sterling holloware, which is characterized by the spotless, satin sheen of stainless-steel engine housings or aluminum satellite panels. For Glover, technology is not the enemy, but it must be mollified by spirit if it is not to escalate out of control. Another misconception about his work that has been particularly troubling to Glover is that it seeks to objectify the feminine, an ironic consequence of its reliance on an ecofeminist worldview that has often implicitly promoted an essentialist perspective on gender. Critics of the suggestion that archetypes are woven in the fabric of the cosmos rather than constructed within social systems have contended that Jungian archetypes of the feminine and the anima are “descriptively, and also prescriptively, limiting images of women in a patriarchal society.” [4] Glover’s concerns over the issue have led him to seek more empowered images of the feminine. The 2001 work Leda, for example, modifies the Ovidian myth of seduction by equating Leda with the divine swan. “I was intrigued by the undulating lines of the bird’s neck in Roberts’s famous painting of the theme,” he explains, “but at the same time I wanted to present Leda as an archetypal image of power rather than a victim of rape. So she became the swan.”

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Flirtation Cups, 2001
Sterling silver, 14k gold leaf, fine silver leaf, ebonized wood
4″ x 6″ x 3″ each
Photo: Robert Suddarth

This kind of totemic, metamorphic relationship between humans and animals, one of the most distinctive characteristics of Glover’s recent work, suggests a kind of psychical regression, a reversion to the animalistic impulses that contemporary existence has repressed into the deepest recesses of the psyche. For Glover, the release of this repressed energy is aptly symbolized by the primal act of howling, an activity in which he recalls the family dogs engaging on moonlit country nights. “There’s nothing more awe-inspiring, more marvelous,” he asserts. “It’s a primordial thing, and it really becomes powerful when something answers them back. It’s a song, a conversing of animals among themselves. It only happens during a full moon. Clearly there’s something there, an energy at work.” Recent vessels such as Hauling Pregnant Tea Thing and Howling Double-­Horned Spring Thing represent Glover’s attempts simultaneously to encapsulate the strange energy of this nocturnal chorus and to release it with explosive force. The tail of the latter vessel, in particular, forms a compelling image of cathexis. “We raised Angus cattle on the farm,” Glover explains, “and every spring when we let them out for the first time, their tails would go straight up in the air and the hairs at the end would wave.”

The phallic nature of this image is obvious and relates to a tendentious focus in Glover’s current work on libidinal energy, which he believes has been inordinately repressed in modern Western society. “The symbols of sexuality are all around us,” he contends, “but we’ve been taught to feel uncomfortable about the human body, so we don’t recognize them. It fascinates me to see college kids wearing cowries, for example. They have no idea that those are fertility symbols, a reference to the vulva. In many cultures they re talismans against evil. The devil embodies death and destruction, so symbols of fertility are repugnant to evil. But in our culture any usual image is automatically corruptive.” The currency of subliminal references to sexuality, however, is intriguing to Glover, who has begun a series of sterling die formed brooches that contain obvious allusions to genitalia. “When you’re romantically involved with somebody,” he explains, “one of the lit first things you do is give thin jewelry. I wanted me brooches to acknowledge this gift giving as part of a mating ritual.”

References to the riles of courtship are equally pronounced in the works of Glover’s current Flirtation series, consisting of paired sterling sheet-constructed cups and teapots whose profiles leave little doubt as to their respective genders. Assertions of tic- sexually charged symbolism of a simple dinner date or a tete-a-tete over coffee, the pieces reflect Glover’s concern for creating “utensils that speak about what’s really going on.” In acknowledging the persuasive power of libidinal drives over conscious actions, however, he is not advocating an unconditional capitulation of individuality to general instinctual patterns of human behavior. It is not incidental that the Flirting Teapots are inspired In Yixing examples, which traditionally brew only a single serving . The overarching goal of Glover’s work has been to promote a sense of omnipresent spirit in the universe, a vital energy that pulses through all things, but the benefits of (his vision accrue to the individual. Ultimately, Glover’s concern is to pre sets, the value of self by limiting the egotism that is its undoing. If pride goes before a fall, the hubris spawned by the modern spirit of obsessive individuality and competitiveness is surely the symptom of an impending social crisis. For Glover, the clearest hope for the future is the mythography of a distant pat, the enduring archetypes from which human beings may still draw their most vital sense of place and purpose in a living cosmos.

Flirtation Tea Servers, 2001
Sterling silver, 18/10 stainless steel, rubber
male 6″ x 4″ x 4″
female 5 1/2″ x 3 3/4″ x 3 3/4″
Photo: Robert Suddarth
Footnotes:
  • [1] See in particular Griffin ‘s anthologies Archetypal Process: Self and Divine in Whitehead, Jung and Hillman (Evanston: Northwestern University Press 1989) and Sacred Interconnections: Postmodern Spirituality, Political Economy, and Art ( Albany . State University of New York Press, 1990).
  • [2] The Reenchantment of Art (New York and London Thames and Hudson, 1991), p. 50.
  • [3] “Postmodernism and Consumer Society.” in The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture, ed Hal Foster (Seattle: Bay Press, 1995), p. 116.
  • [4] Demaris S. Weir, “Religious and Social Dimensions of Jung’s Concept of the Archetype: A Feminist Perspective,” in Feminist Archetypal Theory Interdisciplinary Re-Vissions of Jungian Thought, ed. Estella Lauter and Carol Schreier Rupprecht (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press,1985), p. 44.
By Glen R. Brown [Metalsmith Magazine - Winter 2002]
Glen R. Brown is associate professor of art history at Kansas State University .
In association with SNAG's
Metalsmith magazine, founded in 1980, is an award winning publication and the only magazine in America devoted to the metal arts.
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