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Jan 18
Jul 22

All the Evils… Christian Petersen and the Art of War

Tue / January 18, 2022 Fri / July 22, 2022
10:00 am – 4:00 am / Christian Petersen Art Museum, ISU campus

Christian Petersen (1885-1961) was artist-in-residence at Iowa State University from 1934 to 1955.  He joined what was then called Iowa State College during the depths of the Great Depression. The college was able to hire him in part because of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. The president of the college, Raymond M. Hughes, was eager to bring a higher arts profile to his science and engineering school, believing that fine arts could create not only a more beautiful campus physically, but would be an enlightening intellectual experience for all students. The New Deal’s first art program, the Public Works of Art Project, enabled Hughes to commission a major campus sculpture, the History of Dairying Mural, from Christian Petersen and an extensive mural cycle, When Tillage Begins, Other Arts Follow, from Grant Wood.

After the PWAP ended, Petersen became artist-in-residence at Iowa State. Over the next 25 years, Petersen installed sculptures such as Fountain of the Four SeasonsLibrary Boy and Girl, and Conversations, and The Gentle Doctor throughout the campus.

Petersen was at full artistic maturity during World War II (1941-1945), and he witnessed the toll the war took among his students. He was also fully conscious that the atom bombs which ended that war had taken humanity to a whole new level of destructive potential. He was particularly attentive to this issue when he learned of the role Iowa State College had played in the development of the bomb.

Petersen was not a pacifist, and he did not waver in his support of America. As an artist, he specifically sought to aid the war effort both in World War I and World War II. Yet, as he aged and as spirituality played a larger role in his thinking, he emphasized the tragedy and sorrow of war, not glory or victory. His work focused on war’s primary outcome: death and enduring grief. After World War II, he developed many ideas for memorials that honored the veterans or expressed the mourning of those left behind. One such proposal included the phrase “All the evils,” by which he meant the evils of war and the vicious acts unleashed by war.

This exhibition explores his work on the theme of war from early in his career as he produced monuments for the Spanish-American War and World War I through to his sculptures about World War II and then memorials to the dead and the tragic consequences of war.

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