Sculpting the lives of Iowa State

Joel Federer

Whether people know it or not, the name Christian Petersen has an affect on everyone at Iowa State. Starting August 22, in preparation for its 25th anniversary, the Brunnier Art Museum is holding a series of five exhibitions in honor of the sculptor, potter and ceramist. “All five of the exhibitions have to do with ceramics,” Dana Michaels, associate curator at the Brunnier Art Museum, said. Petersen is most well-known at Iowa State for his works the Fountain of the Four Seasons in front of the Union, the Gentle Doctor at the Veterinary Medical College and the History of Dairy Mural, which is located in the Food Sciences building. Some of his other works deal with issues such as war, agriculture and religion. “We’re really surrounding the exhibitions around Christian Petersen,” Michaels said. “We feel he did not get the recognition during his lifetime that he deserved.” The art museum thinks he’s an important regionalist sculptor who deserves more national attention. “Two of the major pieces that we have in the show are the original Gentle Doctor – the one that’s out at Vet. Med. is a reproduction,” Michaels said. “We’ve also got the original plaster models for the Fountain of the Four Seasons.” Other works on display by Petersen include original sketches of his works on campus, portraits and small studio sculptures. Many people don`t know that Petersen was first brought to Iowa by Grant Wood in 1934 to work on the dairy mural. The mural only took a few months to complete, but Petersen ended up staying for 21 years until he retired in 1955. “Petersen was the first artist-in-residence in the nation at any college or university,” Michaels said. This is a change from the prior claim made by the University of Wisconsin which stated that John Stuart Curry was the first artist-in-residence. Curry arrived at Wisconsin in 1936. “Petersen was here two years earlier,” Michaels said. Other exhibits on show at the museum depict how methods in pottery have changed from before and after Petersen. “[The exhibit] is really nice because we have some 18th century work and we also have the 20th century,” Michaels said. The works range from the conservative and traditional to the very modern. Michaels said one contemporary Iowa ceramist, who created some ceramic fish and commented on pottery created by Iowa State College Art and Pottery students, sold his wares at Veishea and state and county fairs in the 1920s. The proceeds from these sales then went to help support the ceramics department. “I think [students] would be interested in seeing how much Christian Petersen created,” Michaels said. “We don’t know how he could have even slept between 1934 and 1937 because he produced so much.” Another upcoming event related to Petersen is the Petersen Family and Friends Reunion on September 17, from 2 p.m. – 4 p.m. Family, friends, and students of Petersen are invited as well as the general public. The family and friends will be introduced along with some authors of a new book on Petersen which will be available by September 17. On September 19, the Brunnier Museum’s 25th anniversary celebration will begin at 7 p.m. A brief program in commemoration of Petersen will be held followed by an opportunity for the public to meet Petersen’s friends and family. The anniversary celebration will end on July 4, 2001, at the Farm House. “That’s 25 years to the day of when the Farm House opened,” Michaels said.