New portraits unveiled in exhibit at Petersen Art Museum

University Museums unveiled new portraits at the Face Value exhibit at the Petersen Art Museum.

Melanie.Van Horn.Com

Now that many people can access some form of camera through smartphones, one might assume that painted portraits are no longer needed to record the appearance of a person. But the tradition still continues at Iowa State, as shown in the “Face Value” exhibition at the Petersen Art Museum.

“In the last few months, we’ve had several portraits be completed. Because we had so many, we decided to present them all at the same time,” said Nancy Gebhart, educator of visual literacy and learning with University Museums.

The exhibit contains seven new portraits of deans, presidents and department chairs at Iowa State, along with 12 bronze bas reliefs sculpted by Christian Petersen. Portraits include former Iowa State president Steven Leath, as well as President Wendy Wintersteen’s portrait from her time as the Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

When a portrait is painted, the person and their significant other are allowed to choose the artist and the style of their painting with the assistance of University Museums. Over time, Iowa State’s portraits have evolved from a traditional portrait into portraits that depict the personality and essence of the subject. 

In former president Leath’s portrait, he chose to include his dog in the photo, while former College of Engineering Dean Jonathan Wickert is holding an iPhone.

“Part of that comes from personal preference,” Gebhart said.

Not all portraits are able to be painted with a live subject. Perry Holden, former vice-dean of agriculture, passed away in 1959 and his portrait was painted using a photograph. Because the artist did not get to know Holden personally, his portrait has a different mood and lacks aspects of his personality that are present in other portraits painted with live subjects.

Iowa State has maintained its portrait tradition in other ways over the past year, when guest artist Rose Frantzen painted portraits of influential Iowa State faculty and staff. Currently, this exhibit is touring across the state of Iowa.

Getting a portrait painted is not a requirement for deans or presidents, but the portraits serve a larger purpose for the university.

“It’s just a tradition that the university has had since the beginning,” Gebhart said. “It’s part of how we care for the cultural heritage of our institution.”

The exhibit will remain open until March 28. After the exhibit closes, the portraits will be permanently installed in locations across the Iowa State campus.