Beverly Pepper, an American painter turned sculptor who transformed tons of steel and stone into airy creations that enlivened the public spaces they occupied and were displayed in some of the most important art museums in the world, died Feb. 5 at her home and studio in Todi, Italy. She was 97.

Her daughter, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Jorie Graham, confirmed the death and said she did not know the cause.

Ms. Pepper embarked on her artistic career in Europe in the late 1940s, just as the continent emerged from World War II. For decades, she lived in Italy, where her proximity to that country’s rich artistic tradition — and her distance from the sometimes cliquish contemporary American art world — combined to nurture the innovative style that was immediately recognizable as hers.

Ms. Pepper worked in media including steel, iron, bronze and stone and was one of the first sculptors to employ Cor-Ten steel, a material that assumes a striking reddish-brown hue after oxidizing. With those materials, she created massive arcing curves, majestic columns and mirrored prisms — forms whose apparent weightlessness disguised the heft of the materials from which they were made.

“You have to have the brains to outwit a lot of the material you work, particularly iron, which I love,” she once told the New York Times. “Cast iron is very tough material, as is stone, you have to outwit it. That’s the beauty of it, you see.”

Ms. Pepper’s works were displayed in museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Smithsonian Institution’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington and the Centre Pompidou in Paris, among other leading institutions. But they made perhaps their greatest impact when they were displayed in settings such as the piazzas at the heart of many Italian cities.

For Todi, the Umbrian town near Perugia where she lived and worked for years, she created “The Todi Columns,” a grouping of four sculptures ranging from more than 28 feet to nearly 36 feet in height. First displayed in 1979, they were erected again in the town last year.

“For all their modern poise, once installed, the four ‘Todi Columns’ might always have been there,” journalist Megan O’Grady wrote in the Times in 2019, describing them as “relics not from the 1970s but the Iron Age, the kind of archaeological remnants that make you aware of your own minuteness in the larger human project.”

Similar in spirit to “The Todi Columns” were Ms. Pepper’s cast-iron “Manhattan Sentinels” created for New York City’s Federal Plaza. For Barcelona, she designed “Sol I Ombra Park,” a sprawling outdoor space featuring pyramidal and totem-like forms.

Ms. Pepper was often the only woman among the welders and other workers in the factories where her artwork took shape. Once, a blacksmith agreed to work with her on the condition that she use a man’s name — George. In Italy, she asked that she be described as a “scultore,” rather than the feminine form of the noun, “scultrice.”

She traced her comfort in her traditionally male-dominated field to the examples set by women in her family including her mother, who volunteered with the NAACP.

“I wasn’t brought up thinking I had to be a ‘feminine’ woman,” Ms. Pepper told the Sunday Telegraph of London. “There was nothing I ever thought would limit me because my mother and grandmother were very strong women. I didn’t know that’s not how women acted!”

Beverly Stoll, a granddaughter of Jewish immigrants from Lithuania, was born in Brooklyn on Dec. 20, 1922. Her father, a small-time boxer, sold flooring and later fur coats. Her mother helped support the family by taking in laundry.

Ms. Pepper was drawn to the arts in her youth, but her mother assumed all artists to be starving ones, Ms. Pepper recalled to the Times, and encouraged her to pursue a profession that would allow her to support herself.

She enrolled at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, where she studied industrial design but was not permitted to operate machinery because she was a woman, she told the website Artnet.

She entered the advertising field and rose to become vice president and art director at a New York firm. But she was deeply unhappy.

“We used to sit around conference rooms for hours on end, waiting for a client to show up,” she told Time magazine. “And then we all had to bow down like he was God. I used to wear low-heeled shoes so I wouldn’t be taller than the men.”

On the advice of a psychiatrist, she left her job and moved to Paris. She studied painting under André Lhote and Fernand Léger and trained at Le Cordon Bleu, the noted cooking school, later penning several cookbooks.

Her early paintings belonged to the school of social realism, the artistic movement that sought to make political commentary often by depicting poverty and deprivation such as Ms. Pepper observed in postwar Europe.

“At times melancholy, at times naive, the artist pictures the life of the poor . . . in such a way as to give us a poetic image,” an Italian critic, Virgilio Guzzi, wrote in a commentary cited by Time in 1952.

In 1949, she married Curtis Bill Pepper, then an art student and later a journalist who served as Newsweek magazine’s Mediterranean bureau chief, based in Rome. Ms. Pepper reveled in the intellectual ferment of the era, befriending filmmakers including Federico Fellini and Michelangelo Antonioni and once playing poker with Sophia Loren.

But her primary passion was her art. When the Times profiled Ms. Pepper last year, Graham recalled her mother burning holes in her long white leather gloves because she could not tear herself away from her soldering before an evening affair.

She had turned to sculpture from painting after travels through Cambodia, where she was captivated by the sculptures and carvings of the temple of Angkor Wat. “I walked into Angkor Wat a painter,” she told the Times, “and I left a sculptor.”

In 1962, she was invited to participate in a sculptural exhibition in the Italian city of Spoleto that was to feature works by such noted artists as Henry Moore, Alexander Calder and David Smith. Ms. Pepper was undeterred by the requirement that all participants be trained in welding.

“I lied,” she told the Sunday Telegraph. “I figured I could learn between then and the show.” Indeed, she found a blacksmith who agreed to teach her.

Reflecting on her work, Ms. Pepper told the Times that she wished for her creations to provide “that sense of another dimension which you can walk into but there’s nothing there except what you’re walking into.”

One of her last projects was an amphitheater — she described it as an “amphisculpture” — for L’Aquila, the Italian city that suffered a severe earthquake in 2009.

Her first marriage, to Lawrence Gussin, ended in divorce. Curtis Bill Pepper died in 2014. Survivors include their two children, Graham, of Cambridge, Mass., and John Randolph Pepper, a theater director and photographer, of Palermo, Italy; three grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.

For all of the inspiration that she provided to women in the arts, Ms. Pepper said she was not warmly received by the feminist movement. Remembering an encounter with feminist activist Betty Friedan, she told the Times: “She looked like a truck driver, that’s the nicest thing I can say, and she said, ‘Well, are you with us or are we not together?’ I said, ‘None of you invited me in!’ ”

“I never start with the feeling that maybe I can’t do it,” the art critic Phyllis Tuchman, writing for Artnews, recalled Ms. Pepper saying. “I was brought up in a world where you had no choice, you had to try, there were no givens.”