Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Born 1922: Beverly Pepper

No sculptor of the 20th century outpaced Beverly Pepper for versatility and scope of ambition. She first became famous for monumental sculptures made of iron and steel for public gardens and parks, but she progressed to design special outdoor environments that made her a pioneer of land art.

Background: Beverly Stoll was born in Brooklyn, New York, and grew up in a middle-class Jewish household. Her father imported Oriental rugs, and after the war he became a furrier; her mother was a housewife and a volunteer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Training: A precocious child, Beverly earned a degree in industrial and advertising design from Pratt Institute at the age of 17.

She then launched a successful career in advertising. She handled big accounts, made lots of money, and was the flamboyant star of her social circle. Meanwhile she took night classes at Brooklyn College and the Art Students League.

Having succeeded in the sort of career recommended for a woman artist, Beverly needed a new challenge. In 1948, at the age of 26, she left her job to study painting in Europe. She studied with famous artists in Paris.

Private life: In 1941, when she was 19, Beverly married Lawrence Gussin, a fellow student. Their marriage lasted until she decided to pursue further art training in Paris, when she left both her job and her husband behind.

In 1949, Beverly married author-journalist Bill Pepper in Paris. In 1950, Beverly gave birth to a daughter named Jorie in New York City.

Beverly and Bill traveled extensively before settling in Rome in 1952, where their son John was born in 1958.

Bill was the Mediterranean bureau chief for Newsweek from 1957 to 1969. Bill and Beverly were celebrated for their hospitality and socialized with politicians and celebrities from all around Europe.

In 1972, Beverly and Bill moved to Todi, a town about 70 miles north of Rome, where they renovated in a fourteenth-century castle looking over the Italian countryside. Their home became a ritual destination for a wide circle of artists and writers.

In the late 1990s, Beverly and Bill sold their castle and moved into a one-story house of her own design that encircles her studio.

Bill died in 2014. They had been married for 68 years. Their daughter Jorie Graham, is a celebrated poet, and their son John is a successful photographer and theater director.

Career: Beverly started her career in the 1950s as a social realist painter, and received a certain amount of recognition.

The creative realization that caused her to move from painting to sculpture was a trip to the Far East, accompanied by her 10-year-old daughter, in 1960. She has said that her daughter's curiosity made her more focused. The statues at Angkor Wat in Cambodia particularly inspired her. After that, all she wanted to do was to sculpt.

She began by carving sculptures out of the trees that had fallen in her garden in Rome—olive, elm, and mimosa—using carpenter's power tools instead of the traditional chisel. She exhibited these at a gallery in Rome in 1962.

She moved from wood to metal after a curator asked if she could weld pieces for an exhibition featuring the era's most famous sculptors. She was already in the big-time art scene, at the age of 40, the only woman among 10 sculptors in the show.

Later in the 60s, Beverly turned to highly polished stainless steel with painted interiors. These works appear and disappear, mirroring the surrounding landscape, and they incorporate the viewer's reflection into the whole.

In the 1970s Beverly did several works in painted steel and painted Cor-ten steel.

In the 1980s she was working in bronze, making obelisks and plaques.

Also in the 1980s and 1990s, cast iron columns.

She then began working with Cor-Ten steel, an especially weather-resistant industrial alloy. She was one of the first artists to use Cor-ten steel.

In the 1980s, Beverly departed from cor-ten steel to a long period of cast iron sculptures. She spent a half year at a John Deere factory, working in cast iron to produce monolithic sculptures inspired by screwdrivers and files. It was unprecedented for a woman to fabricate sculptures using factory techniques.

Since 2000, Beverly has been working with Cor-ten steel, making simple curves on a monumental scale. She has also done some pieces in marble.

Our photos of Beverly's Work:

In the example below, a ventaglio is a portable fan that produces a cooling breeze.

Perre's Ventaglio III, 1967
Olympic Sculpture Park / Jan's photo, 2010

In the sculpture below, Plus Cathedra means "from the chair" which designates official pronouncements of the Pope.

Plus Cathedra, 1968
Flint / Jan's photo, 2013

Normanno Wedge, 1980
Cast iron
WWU / Jan's photo, 2011

Normanno is the Italian word for Normans, people who lived in Northwestern France, and invaded England in 1066.

Normanno Column, 1980
Cast iron
WWU / Jan's photo, 2011
In the sculpture below, Tarquinia is a city in Italy which is the home of a pre-Roman culture, called the Etruscans. 

Tarquinia Cone Column, 1981
SFMOMA / Jan's photo, 2016

In the sculpture below, Persephone is the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, the goddess of the harvest. She was abducted by Hades, the king of the underworld. Demeter was so devastated by losing her that she negotiated a deal where Persephone would be returned, but she must spend part of each year in the underworld. This symbolizes the dormant period of nature in the winter.

Persephone Unbound, 1999
Cast bronze
Olympic Sculpture Park / Jan's photo, 2007

Hamilton Building of Denver Art Museum with
Denver Monoliths, 2005-2006
Photo by Dan L. Smith, 2012

Denver Monoliths, 2005-2006
Composite cementitious material
Photo by Dan L. Smith, 2012

Denver Monoliths, 2006
Denver / Jan's photo, 2010

Examples of Land Art from the Internet:

Amphisculpture, 1974-1975
Cement and grass / 270 ft in diameter
AT&T, Bedminster, New Jersey /

Walls of Memory, for my Grandmother, 1999-2005
Concrete, branches, tar
Vilnius, Lithuania /

Waccabuc Amphitheatre, 2008
Mixed Media Land Art Theater, New York State /

Cromlech Glen, 2003
Stone, sod
Laumeier Sculpture Park, St. Louis /

Site-specific Sculpture

Sacramento Stele, 1998-2000
Pietra Serena Stone / 4 columns, 18 ft tall
Incised with poem Ako Blooming by Jorie Graham
California EPA Building, Sacramento, CA /

New Smyrna, Florida, 1985
Sand Dunes, 1985
Mylar and wood, 100 ft. long