TODI – Now 96 years old, American award-winning artist Beverly Pepper has continued to create her unique works of land art while living in Todi, an Italian hilltop town in the middle of Umbria. Minimalistic yet monumental, the sculptures known as the “Todi Columns”, installed in the main square in 1979, amazed tourists who visited the town and locals who had the chance to appreciate them everyday. They may have appeared out of place amongst medieval churches and hilly landscapes, however the rusty iron monoliths did not fail to compliment Todi’s rustic atmosphere with a sense of modern poise. In September 2019 the town of Todi will be inaugurating the first ever Contemporary Sculpture Park in Umbria that will display only Beverly’s artworks, as a way to thank her and return the endless dedication she has shown towards the tuderti. All the sculptures will be placed along the road that runs from the Consolazione to the Rocca.
LIFE AND WORK
Beverly Pepper was born in 1922 in New York, the daughter of Jewish immigrants. Growing up next to her mother and grandmother, both strong independent women, Beverly was taught how to exceed the limits of what was considered “womanly behavior”. The artist naturally learned how to defy the expectations people had of her by making a name for herself in the world of contemporary and modern art: she made her debut in 1962 in a Roman gallery. Today, her works are displayed in museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC and the GNAM in Rome. Her sculptures are the result of a carefully studied experimentalism, which mainly consists in original and creative ways to work with iron, steel and cement. Out of all her creations, Beverly does not have a favorite:«Every one of them is the result of the courage and creativity needed to make art».
Beverly first came to Umbria in 1962 for the “Sculture in Città” exhibition in Spoleto. Giovanni Carandente had asked her to display some of the works that she had built in the Italsider factory in Piombino (Tuscany) While learning how to sculpt metal in the factory, she says she could not act like a “lady”, otherwise she would not have been taken seriously as a welder.«It was quite a unique experience, – she remembers – and ever since that exhibition in Spoleto I continued to visit Umbria. The landscapes of this region had fascinated me greatly». Beverly reminisces of how she and her husband Bill used to come to Todi very often to eat at the restaurant “Umbria”: «That’s when my husband and I decided to move here».Until this day Beverly still looks upon Todi from her home on Torre Gentile: «In my life I traveled the whole world, but the only thing I could not live without was my home-workshop in Todi, my Umbrian ‘Beverly’s Hill’. Here my husband Bill and I felt free to create our art: I would sculpt and he would write».
Over the years the American artist continued to work with metal, until she created the sculptures that helped Todi gain importance on an international scale: the “Todi Columns”. These iron pillars undoubtedly became a big sensation at the end of the ’70s, so much so that people still stop Beverly on the street to tell her how revolutionary they truly were. «I would work night and day to understand the proportions of the piazza in order to ensure that the sculptures could be in complete harmony and blend with the rich historical framework of this town». The Todi Columns have been faithfully recreated: these reproductions will be installed in Todi’s main square at the start of April 2019, where the original columns once stood, towering above the people passing by.
Beverly Pepper’s personality is driven by a powerful sense of determination and passion that find a creative output in art. Even though she is not originally from Todi, she completely embodies the feeling of patriotic pride that comes with being a local from the small Umbrian town. Her love for Todi and for the tuderti is shown through her kind donations: over the years, many of these artworks have been displayed in various parts of the town for the public. During a recent interview, Beverly stated: «I’m trying to give the tuderti a hook to hang their hats on, so that they can go beyond just looking at my sculptures. There are such great sculptures anywhere». Talented and just as humble, Beverly shows her admiration for the people of Todi while talking about the sculpture park being built in her honor: «People here, for whatever reason, have understood that they should use this experience for themselves as a learning experience, for their family, their children, their friends, and I don’t want them to say it’s Beverly Pepper’s park, no, it’s the park of tuderti». She refers to it as a “museo a cielo aperto” (a “museum under the open sky”) that she dedicates to the people of Todi. «I hope it helps Todi grow on an international level, and be open to contemporary art and to its beauty». From the very beginning, the idea for the sculpture park was enthusiastically embraced by the town of Todi. The Governor of the region, Catiuscia Marini, has clearly shown her admiration for Beverly’s work:«The very presence of Beverly in Todi since the ‘70s has represented the symbol of the encounter between a medieval town and contemporary art, and we immediately accepted the idea to build the park with great enthusiasm. […] It will be an urban yet naturalistic pathway immersed in nature that connects the Temple of the Consolazione with the historical center; Beverly herself wanted to design it. It is going to be made up of all the artworks that she very generously donated to Todi and to the community». Much like the governor Marini, the mayor of Todi, Antonio Ruggiano, praises the artist’s work:«2019 will be the year that our town devotes to Beverly Pepper, an extraordinary woman and artist, who chose to live, work and create in Todi, which lead to her earning honorary citizenship. […] We’ll have the opportunity for a year of celebrations, memories, tributes and promotions, that will make Todi the center of contemporary art once again».