Although trained as a painter, Beverly Pepper is now known for her sculptures, which are sited in public spaces in major cities across the United States, Italy, Israel and Spain. Contrary to some of the sculptures on the Western campus, which were made here on site, Pepper’s Normanno Wedge of 1980 was cast in a foundry in Italy. Her discussion of the processes and steps involved in making this work is critical to the understanding of it as a monument to tool-making and the spiritual product of tools – that is, civilization. As Pepper relates, it is a seminal work for her, which emphasizes verticality as well as integrating the earth and sky. Positioned on top of a mound, the wedge shape creates a type of urban altar.
“Normanno Wedge is part of a series of sculpture based on tools and allowing their metamorphosis into something else. The embryonic state of the tool evolves into something beyond a tool. This began when I was working in foundries and factories and became involved with the beauty of the instruments I used. As a work in process, it is inevitably seductive. With each new mutation, you wonder if you're finished when you actually need to push on to a final form.”
“I used wedges in making some works to split the sculptures and create a space between -- to keep them engaged in a dialogue. Then, the wedges themselves invaded my mind. This began with the first wedge I created -- a very small, forged steel sculpture, made with a drop forge. It was initially difficult because I felt I needed to do the forging myself, though I was not physically capable of manipulating the forge and maneuvering huge weights of steel. At that point, I decided to shift to casting since it would free me to work directly in iron. The originals could be made out of more malleable material.”
“While working on a show for the Andre Emmerich Gallery in New York, I decided to see if the wedges would work on a large scale. This resulted in Normanno Wedge, the first in a rewarding series of concepts. They were cast in Terni, Italy so I used related names to identify each work. During the Emmerich show, an architect asked me if it Normanno Wedge would work 17-feet high. I said yes, but with reservations. One can't just enlarge a work. Proportions change -- each wedge has its own personality. I went from 12- feet to 17- feet, but only after encountering numerous problems. And I am still making variations and exercises, using Normanno Wedge as a point of departure. I consider it a major piece of work because it is the first one of that series, but it was a complete hands-on experience. There was much to learn, and it expanded my vocabulary. This included the original wood patterns. They had no cores, as did my later work. Later I worked in plaster.”
“…I call WWU's sculpture Normanno because the man who owned its foundry in Terni was named Normanno. Still, it took a lot of persuasion to convince Signor Normano Bernadini to cast that wedge. Eventually, we became great friends and did a lot of work together. Other foundries followed -- my cast iron sculptures made in an industrial foundry, not an art foundry. Industrial casts are coarser and relate more to the concept of the tool.”
“Frequently, I allow my work to guide me. The columns were the natural outgrowth of using files, punches and other tools. I was doubling them up, or elongating them, or otherwise changing them. Vertical sculpture or columnar sculpture has to do with stasis, as with a man standing. Each invites other pieces to stand next to it. They live very well alone of course, but they assume another dimension when grouped together.”
“What engaged me in Normanno Wedge was its surprising unpredictability. In fact, Normanno Wedge is a column, or an exclamation point from one view. From another, however, it presents a flat broad expanse. Actually, this was the prelude to my "altars". In this sense, it is a seminal piece-- for it brought me to the series of Urban Altars that followed Normanno. They allude to the inevitable relationship of people, yet also their inability to stop and privately reflect, particularly in the urban area.”
Directly across Haskell Plaza on the front steps of the Biology building is another work by Beverly Pepper belonging to the same Normanno series. Again, Pepper made a large columnar or totem-like marker resembling parts of tools. She intended to keep the markers together so that they would create a procession through a square, as now Normanno Wedge and Normanno Column begin to do in Haskell Plaza.