University Museums continues to serve community

“Met Chandelier,” designed by Hans Harald Rath in 1963-1966 and manufactured by Lobmeyr-Werkstätten in 2019. The art piece is part of the Art on Campus Collection of University Museums at Iowa State.

Logan Metzger

University Museums may be closed like the rest of Iowa State’s campus, but that does not lessen the impact it has on the Iowa State community.

University Museums is an organization, accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, that encompasses two art museums, a National Historic Landmark historic home museum, a sculpture garden and one of the largest campus public art collections in the nation.

“University Museums brings world-class exhibitions with educational programming to Iowa State University, actively acquires works of art to add to the more than 30,000 permanent collection objects, conserves and preserves collections, conducts and publishes curatorial scholarship and fosters student engagement,” according to the University Museums’ website.

Staff are currently working remotely to create content for social media and expand the museums’ digital presence while all campus facilities are essentially closed. People can connect with University Museums virtually through social media, program videos, the eMuseum collection database, email and the website.

“Our daily social media posts will include object spotlights, short video tours of exhibitions, museum trivia, [Iowa State] history and more,” according to a University Museums’ newsletter. “Museums from around the world are using the hashtags #MuseumFromHome and #MuseumMomentofZen to connect with one another and keep the arts part of our everyday life.”

When the university is not closed, University Museums provides a look into a wide variety of art to the Iowa State and Ames community.

“I think of University Museums as a group of museums,” said Lilah Anderson, educator of visual literacy and learning for University Museums. “We are five entities under the umbrella of University Museums. So University Museums consists of Brunnier Art Museum, Christian Petersen Art Museum, Farm House Museum, Art on Campus Collection and the Anderson Sculpture Garden. We are one staff that takes care of all of those spaces and really functions as an educational resource for the Iowa State community.”

Anderson said all five of the spaces are connected, but they are all different and have different focuses.

Brunnier Art Museum

Iowa State President James H. Hilton had the vision of expanding outreach education, the cultural arts and athletics and housing the programs in a state-of-the-art complex called the Iowa State Center. Beginning in 1959, private monies were solicited from alumni and friends across the nation for 15 years, and in 1962, Ann and Henry Brunnier from San Francisco joined the effort.

“The original collection came from Anne and Henry Brunnier,” said Adrienne Gennett, associate curator of collections and education for University Museums. “Henry was a 1904 graduate in engineering and was very philanthropic but also joined groups like the American Automobile Association and Rotary International and was president of Rotary International. Ann was his wife, and she was very interested in collecting objects and learning, and they would travel the world.”

Anderson and Gennett said they traveled the world together. While Henry funded the collecting, it was mainly Ann who did most of it.

Henry Brunnier arranged for a substantial donation to the Iowa State Center building fund through a trust agreement, and through this, he wanted a museum added to the top floor.

Ann Brunnier pledged a collection of dolls and decorative arts amassed over 55 years. At the time the gifts were made, Henry’s gift was considered the most significant, but it was Ann’s which proved to be the most enduring, according to the University Museums’ website. The actual size of her collection was not known until its arrival at Iowa State in 1974, and to the astonishment of university administration, it filled two semi-truck trailers.

“That core collection that we still use today came from them specifically,” Gennett said. “It includes everything from ancient objects and Roman glass to 18th-century porcelain and metalwares to 20th-century American glass and things like that. It is a little bit of everything.”

Over the next six months, more than 4,000 objects were unpacked and cataloged, and on Sept. 19, 1975, the Iowa State Center’s Scheman Continuing Education Building opened, including the Henry J. Brunnier Galleries on the top floor.

Since 1961 when Henry and Ann Brunnier gifted their collections to Iowa State, over 600 other private patrons have contributed more than 28,000 objects to expand the University Museums’ permanent collections, according to the University Museums’ website.

Farm House Museum

Across campus from the Brunnier Art Museum, the Farm House was evolving into another university museum.

Built in 1860, the Farm House was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1965 as the Knapp-Wilson House, as it was the home of Seaman A. Knapp, author of the federal Hatch Act of 1887, which provided money for agricultural experiment stations, and James F. “Tama Jim” Wilson, who left his position as the first dean of agriculture at Iowa State to become U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, serving Presidents McKinley, Roosevelt and Taft over 16 consecutive years.

Despite its status as a National Historic Landmark, the Farm House was considered for demolition in 1970 to make room for new academic buildings because of its prime real estate location on Central Campus. However, in anticipation of the United States Bicentennial, a trend toward historic preservation was sweeping the nation.

The university recognized the value of the Farm House, so a campus committee was formed in 1971 to preserve and restore the house to its prime. The restoration process lasted from April 1971 to June 1976 and involved the stabilization of the exterior and restoration and reconstruction of the interior.

Building a collection for a museum that had housed 17 families and more than 115 residents proved to be a formidable task, according to the University Museums’ website.

“Documentation of objects original to the house was extremely rare. Therefore, it was decided to furnish the house with objects from 1860 to 1910, reflecting the time period covered in the National Historic Landmark designation,” according to the University Museums’ website. “Alumni and friends of Iowa State that had been following the restoration process through university publications offered their possessions for the new collection.”

On July 4, 1976, the Farm House Museum opened as Iowa State’s contribution to the nation’s Bicentennial celebration, completing its transformation from college farm to campus museum.

Art on Campus Collection and Program

The first public works of art on campus were two bas-relief murals in the 1920s by Nellie Verne Walker, 1873-1973, a female sculptor from Iowa, on the east exterior of the original library building.

The traditional public art program began during the Great Depression when Iowa State’s then-President, Raymond M. Hughes, 1927-1936, envisioned that “the arts would enrich and provide substantial intellectual exploration into our college curricula.” Portraits of distinguished faculty, notable alumni, presidents and administration were actively commissioned during this time, a tradition that continues today.

Hughes invited Iowan artist Grant Wood to create agricultural murals in the library that address the founding of Iowa as well as Iowa State Agricultural College and Model Farm.

He also offered Christian Petersen, an American sculptor, a sculptor residency for one semester to design and build the Dairy Industry Building’s courtyard fountain and bas-relief. Petersen’s tenure ended up lasting 21 years, resulting in 12 major campus sculptures and over 200 sculptural studio works of art.

Iowa became one of the first states to enact a percent-for-art law. The Art in State Buildings legislation, which would ensure the presence of art in all future state buildings, was signed by then-Gov. Robert Ray in 1979.

Since then, Iowa State has completed more than 100 Art in State Buildings projects, commissioned or acquired over 700 works of public art and involved more than 1,000 faculty, students and staff in the Art in State Buildings commissioning process.

These public art acquisition committees still follow the policies and procedures developed in the early 1980s: writing the philosophy statements, setting up the process to review public artists, selecting the artists, reviewing and selecting the public works of art and monitoring the budget for the projects.

Each committee has control over aspects, such as giving preference to a particular expression or style of proposed public works of art. The committee has final approval of each artist’s proposed public work of art.

Utilizing Art in State Buildings and other fiscal support, the Art on Campus Collection accessions an average of eight to 10 projects annually.

Christian Petersen Art Museum

The Christian Petersen Art Museum, named after the nation’s first permanent campus artist-in-residence, opened in a renovated Morrill Hall in 2007.

Petersen sculpted and taught at Iowa State from 1934 through 1955 and is considered the founder of the Art on Campus Collection. The Christian Petersen Art Museum exhibits works of art by Petersen in addition to a rotating schedule of exhibitions that includes contemporary art, public art and exhibitions that engage a diverse group of departments across campus.

The Christian Petersen Art Museum is the home of the Christian Petersen Art Collection, the Art on Campus Program, the University Museums’ Visual Literacy and Learning Program and contemporary changing art exhibitions. The two main art galleries are the Lyle and Nancy Campbell Art Gallery on the main floor and the Roy and Bobbi Reiman Public Art Studio Gallery on the lower level of Morrill Hall.

Elizabeth and Byron Anderson Sculpture Garden

The Elizabeth and Byron Anderson Sculpture Garden is an outdoor exhibition space adjacent to Morrill Hall. Elizabeth Brookhart Anderson, a former student of Petersen, made a gift to establish this garden in memory of her husband in 2008.

The garden is partially situated in a courtyard formed by Morrill Hall on the east and the Hub on the west. Here, the masonry walls of these two buildings provide a semi-private enclosure for the enjoyment of sculpture, including several casts of Petersen’s art. The garden extends along the walkway running south of Morrill Hall and across Morrill Road to the east, where Petersen’s Panthers were installed in 2012.

Sculptures from the Art on Campus Collection and Christian Petersen Art Collection are permanently installed in the Anderson Sculpture Garden and juxtaposed with temporary two-year exhibitions of art by contemporary American sculptors, who are included in the Art on Campus Collection.

The inaugural exhibition in 2008 featured the abstract expressionist sculpture of Bill Barrett, which was followed by an abstract figure exhibition of sculpture by William King and most recently featured the stylized animal sculpture of Gwynn Murrill.

However, the job of University Museums extends beyond just displaying art.

“The main mission of University Museums is to be an educational resource for the [Iowa State] community,” Anderson said. “A lot of the work we do is to integrate visual literacy, so looking at and experiencing artwork, into curriculums but also provide public programming around those and invite students, faculty and staff to come into our exhibition spaces and use those as an extension of the classroom.”

Gennett said a big way the University Museums can be used by the public is through their permanent collection.

“Pull objects pertinent to what is being studied and use those to talk about an aspect of what is happening in that class and how we can use our collection to integrate into learning, especially when a lot of the students have seen this stuff in person,” Gennett said.

Anderson reiterated this point by saying that she wants students to feel like University Museums is their museum.

“This is your collection, this is yours to research, to help you think about ideas,” Anderson said. “ All five of the entities can all contribute to that idea.”

Each year, University Museums does many things with those ideas in mind according to the University Museums’ website.

Staff present around 80 educational programs, free to the public; serve more than 8,000 students in more than 30 departments and across all colleges through the Visual Literacy and Learning program; curate and presents 10 to 15 major exhibitions; commission, research and publish high-quality scholarship books on topics related to Iowa State’s arts, history and the permanent collection; commission over 20 new public works of art for the Iowa State campus; and staff three museums with trained educators.