Tour discusses Iowa State artist Christian Petersen’s WWII-era works


Photo courtesy of Zane Charter / Iowa State Daily

“Men of Two Wars” by Christian Petersen

Zane Charter

On Wednesday, Director and Chief Curator of University Museums Lynette Pohlman led a tour of an exhibit in the Christian Peterson Art Museum titled “All the Evils… Christian Petersen and the Art of War.” The exhibit showcases works created by former Iowa State artist-in-residence Christian Petersen that cover the topic of war, especially World War II.

Pohlman said she knew Christian’s wife, Charlotte, personally. She said she met her while drawing Christian’s sculpture “The History of Dairying,” which is located in what is now the courtyard of the Food Sciences Building. Charlotte arrived, looked at the sculpture “for about thirty, forty minutes” and eventually helped Pohlman with her drawing. The two then went out for ice cream.

“As we were leaving… she says, ‘Hon, when is your project due?’ And I said, ‘Tuesday.’ She says, ‘Excellent, what time can we meet tomorrow? Because your drawing isn’t very good and it needs work,’” Pohlman said. She also mentioned a time when she and Charlotte looked at “hundreds of drawings” and discussed art history for six hours.

In reference to Christian Petersen’s sculpture “War (After the Blitz War),” Pohlman said, “Petersen [born in Denmark] knew the terror of … personally fleeing a country and going somewhere else … The nudity also speaks to the fragility and the unpreparedness of war … The mother is shielding the child from the horrors of war, and she’s horrified as well.”

Pohlman said she believed this sculpture was influenced by the birth of Christian and Charlotte’s daughter and their loss of a son to a stillbirth in the 1930s.

Referring to a photo of a memorial statue located in Attleboro, Massachusetts, and titled “Doughboy of World War I,” Pohlman said, “This is where I think you really see the first evidence that Petersen was not glorifying the act of war. It was about the struggle of the person. Many of his war faces are anonymous. They could be anybody. They’re grim,” she said.

Pohlman also spoke about a sculpture titled “Price of Victory.”

“[Christian Petersen] put it on display in the Memorial Union. Many of his male students had left; they’d been drafted. It didn’t stay on view very long because the student body asked him to remove it. They said it was too hard to look at. And Petersen said that was the highest compliment ever paid to him.”

“Conversations,” located in front of Oak-Elm Hall and the Conversations dining center, was the last site-specific sculpture that Petersen created. It includes three parts: three women talking, a young man and woman looking at a book and a girl sitting alone with a book and a rose.

“All of the tragedies of war that are being depicted [in this exhibit] really culminate in this work of art that really shows the reasons you should go to war, if you have to, if you’re forced into it. You do it to live a peaceful, happy life,” Pohlman said.