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Museum Minute: Beverly Pepper's "Ascension" - The Largest Work of Art in its Collection

Right in front of the museum, in the middle of the Performing and Visual Arts Complex, sits the largest work of art in its collection: Beverly Pepper’s “Ascension.” It’s a 13-foot-high piece of Cor-ten steel that swoops up toward the sky from its stone base, appearing much lighter than its nearly eight thousand pounds. Donations from patrons Don and Susan Meyers and the W. Newton Morris Charitable Foundation allowed the museum to acquire Pepper’s sculpture in 2010, and it was installed on a wintry day with snow on the ground.

Pepper died in 2020, at the age of 97. She was born in Brooklyn and began her career as a painter. In 1960, after a trip to Angkor Wat, the temple complex in Cambodia, she turned to sculpture, working primarily in cast iron and steel. She set herself apart by establishing her own well-equipped studio instead of delegating work to fabricators, even though working with metal on such a scale was physically strenuous. It was particularly unusual for a woman artist to do her own welding, but she said, “Perhaps because I’m not in the art scene I don’t know I’m not supposed to be doing this!”

Another edition of “Ascension” is in Assisi, Italy, the country where Pepper lived for a long time. The work conveys the idea of the defeat of gravity and was influenced by the Italian writer Italo Calvino, who wrote about how imagination helps create and establish memories. Turning something solid and heavy into something seeming to take flight, it symbolizes the power of creativity.