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More than Four Seasons at Iowa State

Posted on 03/23/2018 at 10:56 AM by Nancy Gebhart

by Emily Stearney, Public Relations intern at University Museums

At this time of year, Iowa State’s campus sees the changing of seasons in a matter of days. Students can grill outside and enjoy 57 degree weather one day and build a snowman on central campus two days later, while leftover leaves from autumn blow by on the ground after the snow melts a few days after that. However unpredictable the weather may be, watching the weather change so quickly from warm back to cold makes us more appreciative when spring finally arrives. The changing of the weather isn’t the only “four seasons” that Iowa State students can enjoy. In fact, we have three sets of “four seasons” on campus in the form of art!

Christian Petersen’s Four Seasons

The most well-known fountain on Iowa State’s campus is the Fountain of the Four Seasons, which features four Native American women in poses representing an Osage chant of thanksgiving. Each woman faces one of the cardinal directions. One plants a seed, another watches the seed sprout, the third holds a basket of the harvest created from the seed, and the fourth nurses her newborn child. The water, according to Christian Petersen, represents the fullness and turbulence of the elements and the tranquility of Native Americans in the face of such turbulence.

Christian Petersen’s Four Seasons is one of many Petersen works around campus, and it contributes to the figurative tradition in art and visual culture at Iowa State. Petersen first came to Iowa State in the 1940s at the request of another great artist, Grant Wood, and began his 21-year tenure as a revered professor and the nation’s first permanent artist-in-residence. The Fountain of the Four Seasons underwent an intensive restoration in 1998 to remove the bacteria, mineral, and salt deposits that had accumulated over the past decades. Thank the Iowa State University Classes of 1946, 1947, 1948, and 1998 for the beauty of this fountain that you can still enjoy today!

Manuel Neri’s Four Seasons

Manuel Neri’s Four Seasons series is a continuation of Christian Petersen’s use of the human figure as a representation of the changing seasons. As a reaction to abstract expressionism, Neri was part of a group of artists to return to using the human form as a means of expression in the 1960s as part of a movement known as the Bay Area Figurative Movement. He worked extensively with the female figure and worked almost exclusively from one model, Mary Julia Klimenko, who is a published poet and licensed therapist.


Though different from Christian Petersen’s Four Seasons, the similarities are clear. Both works contain markers that symbolize each season, and both use the human figure as the primary mode of expression for these figures. However, Neri’s expression of seasons is a little less clear; each person can have a differing opinion on which season is represented in each sculpture. Does the color represent the seasons, or does the posture of the human figure tell us what season Neri intended the sculpture to be? This work is in the Christian Petersen Art Museum as part of the Manuel Neri: Ambiguity, Mystery, and Allure exhibit. Stop by the museum to take a look at Neri’s Four Seasons yourself, and come up with your own conclusion!

Ellen Wagener’s Four Seasons

Contrasting the works by Christian Petersen and Manuel Neri is Ellen Wagener’s Four Seasons. As opposed to using the human figure to represent the time of year, Wagener uses skyscape to depict differences between each season. Though Petersen and Neri have compiled the four seasons into one complete work, Wagener’s seasons are depicted in four separate pastel paintings. In each, billowing clouds dwarf the small strip of land at the bottom of the frame, instilling a “sublime” sense in the viewer. “Sublime” refers to the sensation of being in awe at the grandiosity of nature--it’s easy to see how Wagener’s pastel paintings can instill a sense of appreciation for nature in the viewer.

While Neri leaves it to the viewer to determine which season is assigned to which relief sculpture, Wagener titles each painting as the name of the season, followed by the name of the weather pattern in the piece. Fall, Cumulus, Spring, Cyclone, Winter, Blizzard, and Summer, Thunderstorm hang in the Dean’s Gallery in Curtiss Hall.

      
In addition to getting outside and observing the change in seasons, make sure to walk around and appreciate the artistic representations we have of the four seasons around campus!

 

 

Image Credits:

Fountain of the Four Seasons (1941) by Christian Petersen. Commissioned by Iowa State College. In the Christian Petersen Art Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. U88.69

Four Seasons (1/4) (1986) by Manuel Neri. On loan from Ree & Jun Kaneko Private Collection, Omaha, Nebraska. Photo by Charlie Coffey.

Four Seasons (2/4) (1986) by Manuel Neri. On loan from Ree & Jun Kaneko Private Collection, Omaha, Nebraska. Photo by Charlie Coffey.

Four Seasons (3/4) (1986) by Manuel Neri. On loan from Ree & Jun Kaneko Private Collection, Omaha, Nebraska. Photo by Charlie Coffey.

Four Seasons (4/4) (1986) by Manuel Neri. On loan from Ree & Jun Kaneko Private Collection, Omaha, Nebraska. Photo by Charlie Coffey.

Fall, Cumulus (1964) by Ellen Wagener. Purchased by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences with partial funding from Charles Persinger. In the Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. U2012.22

Winter, Blizzard (2006) by Ellen Wagener. Purchased by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences with partial funding from Charles Persinger. In the Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. U2012.23

Summer, Thunderstorm (2006) by Ellen Wagener. Purchased by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences with partial funding by Charles Persinger. In the Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. U2012.21

Spring, Cyclone (2006) by Ellen Wagener. Purchased by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences with partial funding from Charles Persinger. In the Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. U2012.20

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