Pepper, Beverly (1924—)

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Pepper, Beverly (1924—)

American sculptor and painter . Born Beverly Stoll on December 20, 1924, in Brooklyn, New York; Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, B.A. in industrial and advertising design, 1941; attended the Art Students League, New York, 1946, Atelier André Lhote, Paris, 1948, and Atelier Fernand Léger, Paris, 1949; married Lawrence Gussin, in 1941 (divorced 1948); married Bill Pepper (an author and journalist), in 1949; children: (first marriage) son; (second marriage) daughter.

Known for her monumental abstract sculptures and sprawling environmental forms, Beverly Pepper evolved as a sculptor when she was in her late 30s, following a successful career in advertising and several years as a painter. Her sculptures are now part of numerous collections and can be viewed in public installations throughout the world. "Pepper's sculpture has the power to retain its integrity as sculpture but the graciousness to understand its location in a place," writes Katherine Smith , who cites the work Thel (1977) at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, and Amphisculpture (1974–75) at the AT&T Long Line Center in Bedminister, New Jersey, as examples. "Both works are monumental in their proportions yet literally become part of the landscape," says Smith. "Scale for Pepper is a human quality and one she tempers with a consciousness of geography and place."

Pepper was born Beverly Stoll in 1924 and was raised in a middle-class Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York. A precocious child, she earned a degree in industrial and advertising design from Pratt Institute at the age of 17, then married a fellow student, had a son, and launched a successful career in advertising, all before the age of 21. "She handled big accounts, made lots of money, was very inventive, attractive, flamboyant, and stunningly dressed," writes Charlotte Rubinstein , referring to Pepper's early years. In 1948, however, she found herself unhappy with her work and left her job and her husband to study painting in Europe. In Paris, she studied with André Lhote and Fernand Léger, and also met and married her second husband, author-journalist Bill Pepper. The couple traveled extensively for several years, living in Haut du Cagnes, France, and Positano, Italy, before settling in Rome in 1952. Pepper's paintings of this period were social in theme, described in Art News as "romantic realism shading into expressionist distortion."

In 1960, influenced by a trip to the Far East, Pepper took up wood sculpture, carving her works from the olive, elm, and mimosa trees that fell in her garden. She took up welded sculpture in 1962, spurred by an invitation to submit a work to an outdoor sculpture exhibition in Spoleto, Italy. Having never welded before, she apprenticed herself to an ironmonger for a crash course, then began creating her own pieces in the new medium. Pepper exhibited her early welded sculptures in the "Sculpture in Metallo" show in Turin in 1965, and was selected for the Venice Biennale in 1972. In 1975, she exhibited in Houston's "Monumental Sculpture of the Seventies," and at the André Emmerich Gallery in New York, in a show that prompted Robert Hughes of Time magazine to recognize her as "one of the most serious and disciplined American artists of her generation."

Commenting on the polished stainless steel structures she produced in the late 1960s, Pepper notes that she attempted to create "an object that has a powerful physical presence, but is at the same time inwardly turned, seeming capable of intense self absorption." She achieved this dualism by using highly polished mirrored surfaces of steel which reflect the environment (sky, grass, earth), causing the physical bulk of the sculpture to withdraw. "Surfaces reflecting into one another caused complex illusions," writes Rubinstein. "The insides of these forms, contrasting with the silvery exterior, were in brilliant color—blue, orange, black, or white baked enamel. Many of the pieces were constructed of box-like forms, as shiny as mirrors, falling like shuffled cards, teetering in precarious vertical stacks or cantilevering out into space."

During the 1970s, Pepper began to work with triangular forms, suggesting "tents, architecture and pyramids," and again creating contradictions. "Hollows seen from one side, when viewed from another appear to go in contradictory directions," writes Rubinstein. The massive work Alpha (1975), constructed of four orange triangular sheaths, appears solid and heavy from the side, but is quite light and open when viewed from the front, creating what Pepper calls a "precarious balance between the physically self evident and the sense of an elusive inner logic."

Some of Pepper's environmental forms defy classification as sculpture. Her first large environmental project, Land Canal Hillside (1971–74), was built along the center-strip divider of a highway in Dallas, Texas. Rubinstein describes it as a series of "rust-colored, corten-steel triangular forms tilted at different angles, set into grass that grows over some of it in angular patterns." Pepper conceived Amphisculpture (1974–75), an outdoor concrete amphitheater set in grass on the grounds of the AT&T Long Lines Headquarters, to be an interactive environment, "created to bring people out of their offices and into an involvement with the site. It allows them to enter into it, to sit down or to walk, to be alone or in groups … to withdraw in silence." On a site at New Smyrna Beach, Florida, Pepper created Sand Dunes (1985), a mylar over wood structure which stretches 100 feet along the beach.

During the late 1980s, Pepper began to create monumental steel columns, which like her earlier works alter the environment in which they are placed. "There has always been a sense of mystery in the massive forms she constructs," writes Smith, "but the columns of recent vintage are perhaps the richest in a sense of history and time." Pepper first exhibited her columns at the piazza at Todi, Italy, a superb location for them, says Smith, "but their intrinsic power is such that even in other less historically rich locations there is a quality of self absorption and mystery about the work to suggest a new form for the term 'monument.'"

Pepper has had countless individual exhibitions in both the United States and Europe, and is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Gold Medal and Sculpture purchase award from the Mostra Internazionale Florino, Italy (1966), the Best Art in Steel award from the Iron and Steel Industry, New York (1970), and the National Endowment for the Arts award (1975).

In 1972, Pepper and her husband purchased a 14th-century castle in Todi, Perugia, overlooking the northern Italian countryside, where she worked out of a nearby industrial workshop equipped with all the heavy equipment she used to create her oversized pieces. The house served as an ideal backdrop for entertaining, which Pepper continued to do with the flair she has had from childhood. The artist's personality, however, is perhaps best expressed in her sculpture. "In my work the image comes from within me—an 'emotion' that is released," she says. "I then apply whatever critical abilities I possess to allow the intermingling of the intellect and emotion. Even if there is a conflict and contradiction between these two, I allow them to feed into one another and eventually merge into one being."


Heller, Nancy G. Women Artists: An Illustrated History. NY: Abbeville Press, 1987.

Hillstrom, Laurie Collier, and Kevin Hillstrom. Contemporary Women Artists. Farmington, MI: St. James Press, 1999.

Rubinstein, Charlotte Streifer. American Women Artists. Boston, MA: G.K. Hall, 1982.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts