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Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015

Petersen sculptures on display at Arts on Grand

Thursday, January 31, 2002

A traveling exhibition featuring several of the scale-model sculptures and drawings of the late Christian Petersen is currently on display at Arts on Grand through February 9.

Petersen, who emigrated to America with his parents from Dybol, Denmark, in 1894, is recognized as being the first resident artist on a university campus.

After attending several different art schools in the East Coast, he began a die-cutting career and received some sculpture commissions in the late 1920s. He then removed to the Midwest.

It was here that Petersen was invited to join the Iowa Public Works of Art Project under the direction of Grant Wood in Iowa City.

In 1934, Iowa State College (ISU) President Raymond Huges offered Petersen a one-semester residency to create the fountain and bas-reliefs in the Dairy Industry Building Courtyard.

One semester turned into 21 years, and from 1934-1955 Petersen served as Iowa State's sculptor-in-residence.

A handful of the scale models done of his life-size sculptures on the ISU campus in Ames are on display in the Spencer gallery.

Among these are the Athletic Bas-Reliefs, the Gentle Doctor, the Four Season Fountain, the Marriage Ring, and Library Boy and Girl.

"He is also very well known as a regionalist," said Oxana Bedore of Arts on Grand.

Regionalism, an art movement emerging in the late 1920s and early 1930s, marked a transitional stage in American sculpture when styles were shifting from heroic to realistic.

"His originals are some of the most widely recognized regionalist artwork," added Bedore. "The artwork that you see on exhibit in the gallery and at Iowa State University shows everyday life in the Midwest. His artwork has also been used as a documentation of Midwestern Life."

One such example on display at Art on Grand is a scaled model of the Cornhusker, which was sculpted by Petersen of Iowa cornhusking champion Marion Link in 1941.

Another display shows illustrations he did for the book Cha-Ki-Shi.

"It documents tribal life of the Mesquakie Indians," said Bedore. "The Mesquakie Indians still use this book to this day to teach their children about tribal life and tribal customs."

Accompanying his 21 pieces in the Spencer gallery are several displays by Spencer students who studied under Petersen while at Iowa State.

Carole Lea Cotton has brought in a sculpture of herself that her sister, Mary Lou Taylor, accomplished under the direction of Petersen.

"It's kind of fun to see how he taught his students, and how a little bit of that artist remains in the student pieces too," said Bedore.

"He must have taught that when you sculpt anything, you want it to look realistic and not unnatural. I think that's probably depicted fairly well in a lot of his sculptures."

Additionally, Arts on Grand is collaborating with Spencer Community Theatre (SCT) to offer further insight into Petersen's life by offering a one-person play at SCT on Sunday, January 20, at 1:30 p.m. Written by Iowa artist Cynthia Mercati, the play detailing Petersen's life will be performed by Tom Milligan, another Iowa artist also known for his portrayal of Grant Wood.