Christian Petersen

Back in October I had an unfortunate health issue with one of my dogs that necessitated taking him to the big veterinary teaching university hospital- Iowa State University- for an exam and MRI, over the two trips I made there I became aware of some art work on the campus, naturally, wanting to know more I looked up their web site to see if they had any history on it. I didn’t find anything on the interesting larger than life styled bronze dog in front of the emergency entrance, but I did find information on pieces I didn’t see, as well as made a mental connection between a story in the news I read a few years ago about a pair of bronze panthers and how a resident sculptor made them and they were installed on someone’s driveway gates, removed when the house/estate was demolished, and wound up sold to collectors and various auction outfits over the years, and then winding up more or less “lost” but found on the East coast, purchased and returned to Iowa and the University.

The panther story was interesting though I was not pleased that the people in charge had decided to hire an art “restorer” to CLEAN the bronze panthers and totally remove the natural (and highly prized) blue-green patina that takes at least a decade in the weather to form, once formed it protects the bronze. They had removed the patina which every former owner/collector and the auction outfits over the years knew to LEAVE ALONE, and then “sealed” the bronze with some stupid clear spray-on coating, which as we all know paints and such coatins will do is FAIL and have to be stripped off.
Anyway, I knew absolutely nothing at that point about Christian Petersen and didn’t bother to research him, but somewhere along the road of reading about the artwork on the University campus web site, I learned about the unique story and Petersen’s connection to the famed Iowa artist Grant Wood, and how he was hired on around 1933-1934 by the university to make sculptures for the campus, he started out being paid $25/week which was a little less than even the lowest paid, unskilled heating plant custodian at the university.
$25 a week sounds like slave wages but that’s roughly about $440/week today, or about $11 per hour which even today would provide a reasonably comfortable life in rural Iowa that exceeeds federal minimum wage. Considering they hired Petersen for the faculty who had no college degree or the like as was typically required, and the president of the university arranged for a rented university owned house for the Petersens to live in, and coming on the middle to heels of the Great Depression they were not too bad off.

It wasn’t long before I discovered there was a book on the man, so I ordered a used hardcover copy on Amazon which I am reading now in fact, it’s an astoundingly interesting read and has a fair number of B&W photos (Petersen died in 1961) There are several copies right now on Amazon from 1 cent up

Christian Petersen remembered
Hardcover: 217 pages
Publisher: Iowa State Pr; 1st edition (November 30, 1986)
ISBN-10: 0813813468
ISBN-13: 978-0813813462

I like the style of some of the terracotta panels he made for the university dairy science building, a 6-1/2 foot high mural of panels 80 feet long among others, a style that was popular around 1920-1930s, but with a hint of Grant Wood’s folk style to it along with a hint of Art Deco.

I’d include an interesting photo of him in his studio modelling a panel but it seems the University has this really insane copyright paranoia about even using the tiniest low res image without having to fill out forms, submit them with a fee and wait 2-3 weeks for approval per this below:

Patrons will complete the “Request for Reproduced Images from the Special Collections Department” form and the “Request to Publish or Quote” form and submit with requested images. Special Collections must be cited as the source for the scanned images, and a digital watermark will be placed on the image to indicate its copyright status. Patrons must have permission from the Special Collections Department before mounting any image on a website. Patrons will provide the URL information to the Department as well as provide a link from the Department’s citation to the Department webpage.

After submission of the appropriate paperwork and payment, the Department will provide the images within 2 weeks, depending on the Department’s schedule. For rush orders, an additional fee will be assessed. Following is the fee schedule for digital reproduction of images from the ISU Library Special Collections Department.

Just WAAAAAYY too much trouble for me, so any readers will just have to make do with this link and you are on your own:

I can however include a crop of a photo from the Historic American Building Survey (HABS) division of the Library of Congress since the photos there are public domain and/or public govt funded:

Publication and other forms of distribution: The original measured drawings and most of the photographs and data pages in HABS/HAER/HALS were created for the U.S. Government and are considered to be in the public domain. However, occasionally material from a historical society or other source is included in the photographs or data pages.

Credit Line: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, HABS Nr 32. EAST SIDE OF COURTYARD, CENTER (FOURTH FROM LEFT) SCULPTURE PANEL AND FOUNTAIN, LOOKING EAST (Wieskamp)