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Color photographic portrait of Beverly Pepper with sculptures made with cor-ten steel from the curvae series

Beverly Pepper with sculptures in the Curvae series installed in front of the Ara Pacis Museum in Rome in 2014. Photograph: Domenico Stinellis/AP.

In 1962, when Beverly Pepper was invited to take part in an artist residency at a metalworking factory in the Italian town of Piombino, they asked if she could weld. “Of course,” she lied, quickly seeking out a local handyman to teach her the basics. That crash-course led to a six-decade career in which metal became the American artist’s primary material.

As well as iron and bronze, Pepper, who has died aged 97, was the first to use Cor-ten steel (which weathers attractively outdoors) in art, before more famous male peers such as Donald Judd and Richard Serra. She employed these industrial materials on a range of scales, from vast land art projects to delicate, plinth-based sculpture. Curvae, a 2012 series of steel works, each over a meter in height, is typical in how the red-brown weathered surface of the material blends with the landscape. The connection to nature is reinforced as each piece of metal curls off the ground like a dropped leaf.

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