Christian Petersen Sculptures

About the sculptor

A Danish-born sculptor, Christian Petersen (1885-1961) emigrated to America at the age of nine. After studying at the Technical School of Art in Newark, N.J., he enjoyed considerable success as a steel engraver and medalist while still a teenager. He studied sculpturing at the Rhode Island School of Design and at the Art Students League in New York. From there he went to Boston to study under Henry Hudson Kitson. In 1934 he was hired by Grant Wood to work with the Public Works of Art Project, and was assigned to work on the Dairy Industry Courtyard sculpture project which Iowa State University President Raymond M. Hughes had arranged with the WPA. Following a brief period in Iowa City, Petersen arrived at Iowa State University to become the first sculptor-in-residence at a U.S. university. He was appointed to the faculty in 1937, teaching and sculpting until 1955 in space converted to a studio in the old Veterinary Quadrangle.

The Library has two works in Bedford limestone by Petersen: the pair of students at the foot of the first floor stairwell in the original building, and the "Old Woman in Prayer" at the southeast corner of the glass curtain wall of the 1983 addition.

Many examples of Petersen's work are to be found throughout campus. The most well-known is probably the Four Seasons fountain with its Native American maidens on the north lawn of the Memorial Union. Other familiar works include the bas reliefs in the Dairy Industry Building, the Wedding Ring grouping around the pool on the south lawn of MacKay Hall, and the three terra cotta panels of athletes adorning the State Gymnasium. The sculpture of the Gentle Doctor tenderly holding an injured pup has been reproduced widely in veterinary publications, and has become a symbol of compassion for animals for the veterinary profession nationally.