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This article by Pat Summers was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on
October 13, 1999. All rights reserved.
From Tiny Tree Stumps: Beverly Pepper
Usually a serenely quiet place, Grounds for Sculpture
was transformed last week into a major construction site during installation
of the works of Beverly Pepper, whose solo exhibition opens on Saturday,
October 16. Spiking the rolling green hills and dwarfing both the
big museum buildings and the largest piece of sculpture, a 50-ton
crane rose toward the sky, foreshadowing in a way Pepper’s works that
do much the same. A second crane, three 10-ton forklifts, vans, trucks,
and numerous workers completed the temporary transformation.
Nearby, men unloaded a gigantic container shipped from Paris with
works from Pepper’s recent show at the Palais Royal. Another wielded
a power-hose on long, rusty, cast-iron columns lying on the ground,
to rid them of months of bird droppings. A few men dug a deep rectangular
hole — the beginning of a base for one of Pepper’s stone sculptures
to be positioned outside the Domestic Arts building. At the edge of
the parking lot, a man pried crates open to free more sculptures.
Inside the Museum and Domestic Arts buildings were still more men
at work: building stages for models, marking the floor where one or
another monumental piece will go, painting, hanging, uncrating. Still
more men . . . and one woman. Dressed in layers of black sweaters
and pants, a khaki-colored vest of many pockets, and well-worn sneakers,
artist Beverly Pepper moves from one part of the operation to another.
Here, she encourages an assistant, painting continuity landscape on
the wall behind a model-platform. Borrowing his long, brush-tipped
pole, she demonstrates how to achieve the desired effect. There she
talks with a few workmen about the angle for positioning four flat
wooden dollies that will support sculptures without blocking one of
her preliminary drawings for the work that hangs nearby. Then, she
converses in Italian with another assistant.
Outside, she checks on whether the base of one piece meets her specifications,
chats with the man power-washing the iron pillars, marvels at the
great job done by the Parisian container-packers, and throws a question
to a passing worker who replies, "No problem." Pepper rolls
her eyes and says, "`No problem’ — I worry when I hear that.
I’m sure that’s what Judas said to Christ: `I’ll think about it. No
Periodically, Pepper runs a hand through her shoulder-length brownish
hair, pushing it back from her forehead. The 74-year-old artist stands
less than five-and-a-half feet tall. Her voice is low, her smile dazzling.
American-born and a long-time resident of Italy as well as New York,
Pepper has a chic, continental look. And a highly competent yet non-abrasive
Beverly Pepper: internationally known sculptor and creator of site-specific
earthworks — and, originally and still, a painter. Perhaps best
known for her soaring vertical sculptures in cast-iron (an artistic
medium she pioneered), steel, and stone, variously called columns,
totems, markers, obelisks, sentinels. An artist who has often worked
at foundries and industrial sites to learn the properties of her materials,
and how to work them, and who operates machines and tools "as
if she invented them for her own use," which is also how she recommends
others treat them.
Some 50 of Pepper’s works will be on view at Grounds for Sculpture,
beginning October 16 and running through April 16, in what director
and curator Brooke Barrie describes as a major sampling from key phases
of Pepper’s career, although not a retrospective. With two outdoor
works already in the Grounds’ collection, the exhibit of additional
outdoor and indoor sculptures will be supplemented by artist’s drawings,
models, and photographs of works in situ "to give the viewer an
idea of the steps behind an outdoor work," Barrie says. She points
out that Pepper has also created work on the spot, like plaster textures
on walls to illustrate surface qualities and further enrich the educational
value of displays in the Domestic Arts building.
Born in Brooklyn, Pepper, who had always drawn, studied advertising,
photography, and industrial design at Pratt Institute — the latter
discipline for the briefest time, because she was thrown out of the
program after about a month. It was feared that as the only girl enrolled,
she would have trouble handling the equipment. Even so, she says,
"everything I know about sculpture I learned from that class —
clay, plaster, drawing in three dimensions . . ." She continues
to respect power tools like rotary and jig-saws, as well as the array
of big tools required to create her large works. "I’m always afraid
when I get near big machinery, but I think that’s also part of the
process — you can’t live with fear."
Some of her adaptability to machines and making things work had to
come from her mother, the one in Pepper’s family of five — counting
an older brother and sister — who handled the household repairs.
Both first-generation Americans, her parents had a traditional marriage
in some ways, but not all. Though never employed, her mother was a
political, social, and health activist, as was her grandmother. Pepper
believes she’s also a product of World War II, when women were pressed
into the work force. "Most of them went back to the house afterwards
— I didn’t." She never felt unable to do something, or hampered
by being a woman — which may be why Betty Friedan has cited Pepper
as one of two reasons she wrote her landmark feminist book, "The
"I think it was because she had problems selling an article on
me as someone who could do everything," Pepper says. An example:
"To support myself, I wouldn’t be an assistant to anyone. So I
wrote a cookbook, which to my great good fortune became a bestseller."
In the 1940s, she worked as an art director, studied
painting in Paris, and married her husband of almost 50 years now,
Curtis Gordon (Bill) Pepper, a foreign correspondent. Their two children,
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Jorie Graham and painter-writer John Pepper,
were born in the ’50s. From a family in which she was the only artist,
Pepper grew a family of all artists, who, she says, "understand
the need for freedom" And yet, "We’re in each other’s pockets,
we’re interested in what the others do, and their work is an extension
of our own. We’re a very fortunate family."
Good fortune, luck, and even accidents are integral parts of Pepper’s
life, especially in the story of how she became a sculptor at around
age 40. "I had always been interested in three dimensions. My
paintings began to look more and more dimensional. And then this thing
with luck happened, and luck is very important in life."
First, her family had moved into a new house with the trunks of 36
chestnut trees on the property. Then, during a trip around the world
with her daughter, they visited Angkor Wat, Cambodia, where art that
had been hidden for centuries before being rediscovered in the 19th
century could be seen. "We saw all these amazing carved heads,
two, three, five stories high. People could fly in and out in a day,
but I stayed there for two weeks. I realized that that dimension really
had a sense of time, a sense of survival.
"When I got back to my new house, the stumps were there. It was
sort of an invitation that one couldn’t say `No’ to. I certainly wasn’t
a carver; I just picked up the machinery I needed and invented the
process." In 1962, Pepper had her first sculpture exhibition in
the United States.
During that decade, she made highly polished stainless steel pieces.
(Some are included in the current show.) In the early ’70s, along
with a move to Todi, Italy, she produced her first large environmental
project in Dallas, and then moved on to "Amphisculpture,"
an expansive outdoor amphitheater that seats 1,000 for AT&T’s corporate
offices in Bedminster, New Jersey, completed in 1979.
In the late ’70s, Pepper also began to create small-scale forged and
cast-iron "totemic" sculptures, and by 1980, she had produced
the first of the "Markers," described as "primordial cast-iron
columns." Pepper practically rhapsodizes about iron as a medium
— as something historical and permanent and virtually indestructible.
She developed ways to work ductile, or malleable, iron, and in 1982
installed three ductile iron markers, each 26 by 45 feet, in Trenton’s
Richard J. Hughes Justice Complex, which was still being finished.
(Note: She has not seen this work — her second major commission
in New Jersey — since then. Curious about how it has meshed with
the completed building, she planned to visit and photograph it last
"I do open-ended work," Pepper says. "I start, and when
it’s finished, I see it. It’s not that I know how it’s going to be
finished. I don’t find it satisfying to have the answer before starting,
and if you’re any good, the answer should be a question. When I start
working on something and there’s an accident, I follow the accident."
She relates the story of Velcro, the now-ubiquitous fastener, and
how it was discovered, accidentally, by a Swiss named Velcro. "I
let the stone suggest what I have to do," she says, with one of
a few references to Michelangelo and his approach. "I try to make
my work belong to time, particularly with stone. The stone has its
own age already when you start."
Starting in the mid-’80s, Pepper’s columns grew taller,
slimmer. She exhibited her wall reliefs, produced more site-specific
environmental projects, moved into block-like forms, and had her first
show of paintings in nearly 30 years. One element of her work is regularly
cited: its texture. "Gestural," one writer called it; another
tied it to her origins as a painter. Pepper herself refers to "a
lot of handwork," whether in wood, plaster, metal, or stone. The
photos show marks by her hand, or her hand tools. She says she likes
"the movement, the activity of creating textured surfaces,"
gaining a lot of physical satisfaction from it. Only partly joking,
she refers to the "horrible sedentary life" of her family
As for the wide variety of her work and the plethora of projects underway
at any given time, Pepper muses, "Monolithic. That’s the word
for how it used to be. After Warhol, artists could do as many different
things as they wanted. Noguchi designed lamps! It’s about creativity"
"The real luck," she continues, "is to reach my age and
still be creative. The hedge against on-rushing old age is to keep
inventing and doing things and trying to be creative. And if you’re
lucky, you have this. I believe you have to push your luck, you have
to believe in yourself." Semi-seriously, she mentions a friend
who keeps learning new words, while Pepper tests herself by learning
every new phone number she can. And, besides an artistic workday that
runs 8 to 4 or 4:30, she draws ("keeps the mind alive") and
reads all the time — poetry, biography, books she has enjoyed
before. And when she goes home to Italy, she will return to a new
house she designed around her studio.
Pepper’s worldliness and wide experience don’t lend themselves to
rudimentary questions about influential and admired artists. "It’s
hard to say who touches me now. I live in the land of Michelangelo
and Donatello. I live with great art, art that has survived time.
The other thing is how one’s taste changes. I just love Bernini at
this moment, and I just loathed Bernini 25 years ago." Pointing
to her extensive travels, Pepper adds, "I also see the great 20th-century
art. I think Picasso was probably one of the greatest sculptors of
the century, while Matisse didn’t make too many mistakes in painting!"
Pepper looks forward to collaborating on an art project with her poet-daughter
as well as continuing to do her work, and growing at it. Again, she
cites Matisse, who said if he lived long enough, he might learn to
draw. Pepper: "Perhaps I’ll get to do the one sculpture I’ve been
waiting to do all my life."
— Pat Summers
Road, Hamilton, 609-586-0616. First day for the Fall-Winter Exhibition
and the one-person Beverly Pepper show in the Museum and Domestic
Arts Building. On the mezzanine, a juried photography group show,
"Focus on Sculpture." Shows continues to April 16. Free. Saturday,
October 16, 10 a.m.
p.m. Web site: http://www.groundsforsculpture.org.
Lanzone, director of Marlborough Chelsea, New York, in conjunction
with the Beverly Pepper exhibition. Free with reservation. Saturday,
November 6, 7:30 p.m.
"Two Views of Truth," a two-man exhibition of photographs
by Ricardo Barros and sculpture by Vladimir Kanevsky. Gallery hours
are Wednesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. To October 17.
"Water Works," an exhibition of watercolors by Gail Bracegirdle.
To November 1.
609-799-6706. Group show featuring oils by David Thurlow, Inga Steinberg,
Marina Kalinovsky, and Apo Totosyan; sculptures by Amedeo Ferri; and
the works of Sydney Neuwirth. To November 6. Gallery hours are Tuesday
to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Friday, to 7 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.
to 6 p.m.
Jon Roemer, "Photographs on the Periphery of Manhattan." The
work is part of an ongoing series by the fine art and commercial photographer
that explores the built environment in this most densely populated
area of the country. To November 1.
"A Change of Seasons," an exhibition of recent work by European
artists Joe McIntyre, Simon Palmer, and Gabriel Schmitz. Gallery hours
are Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. To October 16.
Far Eastern Perspective," a group show of lithographs by Susumu
Endo of Japan, woodblock prints by Yoshikatsu Tamekane of Japan, and
digital paintings by Cyprian Li of China. To October 16. Gallery hours
are Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Lear’s Greece," an exhibition of watercolors, sketchings, and
letters from the Gennadius Library of the American School of Classical
Studies in Athens, Greece. Also "The Trappings of Gentility: 19th-Century
British Art at Princeton." Both shows to January 2. "What
Photographs Look Like," from the permanent collection. to October
24. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.;
Sunday 1 to 5 p.m. Free tours of the collection are every Saturday
at 2 p.m.
"Beauty Queens," an exhibition by Carson Fox. The mixed-media
show is composed of rusted dresses made of paper, headpieces and tiaras
of wire, beads, and pins, and funeral wreaths. To October 24. Gallery
hours are Monday to Thursday, 2 to 8 p.m.; Friday to Sunday, 2 to
Trenton, 609-394-4095. Physicians’ exhibition features works by CHS
physicians Anthony Chiurco, Joseph Eberhart, Leon Fraser, Jay Goodkind,
Robert Gould, Alfred Monkowski, Horace Shaffer, Iradj Sharim, Richard
Siderits, Joseph Wood, and Lee Yazujian. Lobby gallery is always open.
Show runs to November 12.
609-921-9000. In the Conant Gallery Lounge B: Randolph Husava, oil
paintings, to October 20.
732-524-3698. In the New Jersey Artist Series, "Portraits"
by Nicole Maynard-Sahar, an exhibition of expressionistic portraiture.
Free by appointment.
609-896-9060. "Departures," an exhibition by the Art Group,
featuring Princeton area artists Liz Adams, Nadine Berkowsky, Eva
Kaplan, Edith Kogan, Judith Koppel, Stephanie Mandelbaum, Helen Post,
and Gloria Wiernik, and curated by Gary Snyder of Snyder Fine Art.
To November 12. Exhibit is open Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
609-987-3200. "The American Indian Artists’ Exhibition," a
group show that continues to November 29. Exhibition is open daily,
9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Free.
"Ten x Ten," a group show of women’s book arts organized by
the Printmaking Council of New Jersey. Also showing: "The D&R
Canal and Trenton: A Visual History." To October 24. Museum hours
are Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Sunday, 2 to 4 p.m.
Recent work by Helena Lukasova. A native of the Czech Republic, she
will show bronze and iron sculpture combined with nontraditional materials.
To November 4. Gallery hours are Monday to Thursday, 10 a.m. to 4
In the Mary H. Dana Women Artists Series, "Stroke-Mark-Motion,"
an exhibition by feminist performance and conceptual artist and filmmaker
Carolee Schneemann. To November 13.
Street, New Brunswick, 732-846-5777. "The Hungarian Spark in America,"
an exhibit highlighting Hungarian contributions to the arts, sciences,
humanities, commerce, religious and civic life in America. To January
31. Museum hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sunday,
1 to 4 p.m. $3 donation. Museum hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 11
a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m. $3 donation.
Brunswick, 732-932-7237. "A Sense of Wonder: African Art from
the Faletti Family Collection." Show features 80 works, dating
from the 15th to early 20th century, presenting an overview of the
variety of style and sensibility in African art. To November 24. Museum
hours are Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday and
Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.
Annual Fall Exhibition features paintings by Albert L. Bross Jr.,
watercolors by Harriet Ermentrout, and pastels by Mike Filipiak. To
November 14. Gallery hours are Wednesday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
One-person exhibition of painting and sculpture by Doylestown artist
Sandra Eliot continues to October 28.
609-397-3349. On exhibit, Stephen Hall’s "Meanings and Metaphors,"
and Susan Zoon’s "Contents Under Pressure." Both shows run
to October 31. Gallery is open daily, 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., except
Burlington, 609-386-4773. "Wildfowl Decoy Exhibit" by master
Burlington carver Jess Heisler (1891-1943), whose best work ranks
among the finest of the Delaware River school of carving, and works
by his friend and pupil John Marinkos (1915-1999). To January 9. Hours
are Monday to Thursday, 1 to 4 p.m.; and Sunday, 2 to 4 p.m.
215-345-0210. "Edward Hicks Country," a companion to the Philadelphia
Museum of Art comprehensive exhibit on Edward Hicks, an exhibit on
the professional and spiritual environment in which the lifelong Bucks
County artist worked. Three related displays explore the 19th-century
craft of ornamental painting, the Quaker meetinghouse environment,
and the iconography of William Penn and the Society of Friends. $5
adult; $1.50 youth. Museum hours are Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to
5 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.; and Tuesday evening to 9 p.m.
215-340-9800. Celebration of American Art features "An Edward
Hicks Sampler," featuring an 1837 version of "Peaceable Kingdom"
and "The Landing of Columbus." Also an exhibition, "Picturing
Washington: Icons and Images of America’s Founding Father." $5
adults; $1.50 students; children free. Museum hours are Tuesday to
Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Wednesday evenings to 9 p.m.; Saturday
& Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Also "The Philadelphia Ten: A Women’s Artist Group, 1917 to 1945,"
to October 3. "From Soup Cans to Nuts," an exhibition of prints
by Andy Warhol, on loan from the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. The
artist, who died in 1987, is best known for his flamboyant, multiple
silkscreen prints that explore icons of popular culture from the famous
soup to Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Kennedy. To November 21.
Museum hours are Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Wednesday
evenings to 9 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed
Mondays. $5 adults; students $1.50; children free.
609-298-6970. "Thomas Kelly: Recent Works," an exhibition
by the painter whose quirky scenes capture some of the enigma of life
as we know it. To October 31. Gallery is open Thursday through Saturday,
4 to 7 p.m.
"Cats," a group exhibition with works by artists inlcuding
Bill Giacalone, Hanneke DeNeve, Elizabeth Lombardi. Gallery is open
Tuesday through Sunday (call for hours) and by appointment. To November
The gallery celebrates its fourth year and a new exhibition season
featuring 12 gallery co-op members presenting shows that change monthly.
Working with owner Eric Gibbons are curators and artists Beverly Fredericks
and Lana Bernard-Toniolio.
Additional co-op members are Maura Carey, Sarah Bernotas, Richard
Gerster, Robert Sinkus, Mike Pacitti, Michael Bergman, Jane Lawrence,
Charlotte Jacks, Dorothy Amsden, Carmen Johnson, Joh Wilson, and Bob
Gherardi. Gallery hours are Wednesday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Thursday
to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Drive, Jamesburg, 732-521-0070. "Medley," an exhibition of
paintings, hand-made paper, and mixed media works by Anita Benarde.
To October 27. Free.
"Hall of Heroes," Bob Karstadt’s exhibition of drawings and
sculptures that examine heroes physical, mystical, biblical, historical,
popular, and extraterrestrial. His subjects include Mickey Mouse,
Joan of Arc, Eleanor Roosevelt, Socrates, and John Glenn. To October
15. The gallery is open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Road, 609-921-3272. Shared show of oils by Helen Post and abstract
acrylics by Helen Gallagher. To October 30. Gallery hours are Tuesday
to Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Landscapes and animal paintings on glass by Mary DeWitt. To October
23. Gallery hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
908-725-2110. "Reading Blake," a national group show, organized
by Paul Bonelli and Thomas Huck, of prints based on the art, poetry,
and philosophy of William Blake. Show features works evocative of
the visual style Blake used in his etchings as well as contemporary
interpretations. Media include engraving, etching, linocut, lithography,
silkscreen, letterpress, and woodcut. Gallery hours are Wednesday
through Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday, 1 to 4 p.m. To October
609-737-7592. "Environmental Studies, Computer Collages and Wooden
Ware" by J. Chester Farnsworth, a satirical show of mixed-media
work, To October 30.
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