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University Museums History

Brunnier Art Museum

Iowa State University President James H. Hilton (1953-1965) had a vision of expanding outreach education, the cultural arts and athletics, and housing the programs in a state-of-the-art complex called the Iowa State Center. Beginning in 1959, private monies were solicited from alumni and friends across the nation for fifteen years, and in 1962, Ann and Henry Brunnier from San Francisco joined the effort. Henry Brunnier arranged for a substantial donation to the Iowa State Center building fund through a trust agreement. Ann Brunnier pledged a collection of dolls and decorative arts amassed over fifty-five years. At the time the gifts were made, Henry’s gift was considered the most significant, but it was Ann’s which proved to be the most enduring. The actual size of her collection was not known until its arrival at Iowa State in 1974, and to the astonishment of University administration, it filled two semi-truck trailers. Over the next six months, more than 4,000 objects were unpacked and cataloged, and on September 19, 1975 the Iowa State Center’s Scheman Continuing Education Building opened, including the Henry J. Brunnier Galleries on the top floor.

Since 1961 when Henry and Ann Brunnier gifted their collections to Iowa State University, over 600 other private patrons have contributed more than 28,000 objects to expand the University Museums’ permanent collections. The bequest of the Edith D. and Torsten Lagerstrom Collection greatly expanded the areas of European and American decorative arts. Other collections have grown consistently as gifts were made over time, such as the W. Allen Perry Collection of Asian Arts and the Iowa Artists Collection.

Farm House Museum

Across campus, the Farm House was evolving into another University museum. Built in 1860, the Farm House was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1965 as the Knapp-Wilson House, as it was the home of Seaman A. Knapp, author of the federal Hatch Act of 1887 which provided money for agricultural experiment stations, and James F. “Tama Jim” Wilson, who left his position as the first Dean of Agriculture at Iowa State to become U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, serving Presidents McKinley, Roosevelt and Taft over sixteen consecutive years. Despite its status as a National Historic Landmark, the Farm House was considered for demolition in 1970 to make room for new academic buildings because of its prime real estate location on central campus. However, in anticipation of the Bicentennial, a trend toward historic preservation was sweeping the nation. The University recognized the intrinsic value of the Farm House, so a campus committee was formed in 1971 to preserve and restore the house to its prime. The restoration process lasted from April 1971 to June 1976 and involved the stabilization of the exterior and restoration and reconstruction of the interior.

Building a collection for a museum that had housed seventeen families and more than 115 residents proved to be a formidable task. Documentation of objects original to the house was extremely rare. Therefore, it was decided to furnish the house with objects from 1860 to 1910, reflecting the time period covered in the National Historic Landmark designation. Alumni and friends of Iowa State that had been following the restoration process through University publications offered their possessions for the new collection. On July 4, 1976, the Farm House Museum opened as Iowa State’s contribution to the nation’s Bicentennial celebration, completing its transformation from college farm to campus museum.

Art on Campus Collection and Program

The first public works of art on campus were two bas-relief murals in the 1920s by Nellie Verne Walker (1873-1973), a female sculptor from Iowa, on the east exterior of the original Library building. The traditional public art program began during the Great Depression when Iowa State College’s then President, Raymond M. Hughes (1927-1936), envisioned that "the arts would enrich and provide substantial intellectual exploration into our college curricula." Portraits of distinguished faculty, notable alumni, presidents and administration were actively commissioned during this time, a tradition that continues today. Hughes invited Iowa artist Grant Wood (1891-1942) to create agricultural murals in the Library that address the founding of Iowa as well as Iowa State Agricultural College and Model Farm. He also offered Christian Petersen (Danish-American, 1885-1961) a sculptor residency for one semester to design and build the Dairy Industry Building’s courtyard fountain and bas-relief. Petersen’s tenure ended up lasting twenty-one years, resulting in twelve major campus sculptures and over 200 sculptural studio works of art. He created a legacy using figurative traditions in a narrative style to depict campus qualities. In the spirit of Christian Petersen, Iowa State University continues to tell the stories of contemporary campus life and academics with public art, building a collection that became the Art on Campus Collection and Program.

Iowa became one of the first states to enact a percent-for-art law. The Art in State Buildings legislation, which would ensure the presence of art in all future state buildings, was signed by then Governor Robert Ray in 1979. Since then, Iowa State has completed over 100 Art in State Buildings (AiSB) projects, commissioned or acquired over 700 works of public art, and involved over 1000 faculty, students and staff in the AiSB commissioning process. These public art acquisition committees still follow the policies and procedures developed in the early 1980s: writing the philosophy statements, setting up the process to review public artists, selecting the artists, reviewing and selecting the public works of art and monitoring the budget for the projects. Each committee has control over aspects such as giving preference to a particular expression or style of proposed public works of art—for example, realistic, narrative, or abstract. Most importantly, the committee—not University Museums—has final approval of each artist’s proposed public work of art. The primary responsibility of the museums staff is to ensure that a diverse pool of professional, national public artists is available from which to review, select, commission, and acquire, followed by the University Museums’  the long-term commitment to care, maintenance and integrated educational programs.

Utilizing AiSB and other fiscal support, the Art on Campus Collection accessions an average of 8-10 projects annually.

Significant traditions that guide the acquisition of public art in to the Art on Campus Collection include:

  • Use of the human figure

  • Mythology, poetry, and literary references

  • Involvement of the campus community in the commissioning process

  • The public art’s reflection of the mission of a department, college, program or the university

Christian Petersen Art Museum

The Christian Petersen Art Museum, named after the nation’s first permanent campus artist-in-residence, opened in a renovated Morrill Hall in 2007. Christian Petersen sculpted and taught at Iowa State University from 1934 through 1955 and is considered the founder of the Art on Campus Collection. University Museums strives to preserve his legacy and continue his tradition of art on the Iowa State University campus through exhibitions and educational programs. The Christian Petersen Art Museum exhibits works of art by Christian Petersen in addition to a rotating schedule of exhibitions that includes contemporary art, public art, and exhibitions that engage a diverse group of departments across campus.

The Christian Petersen Art Museum is the home of the Christian Petersen Art Collection, the Art on Campus Program, the University Museums’ Visual Literacy and Learning Program, and contemporary changing art exhibitions. The two main art galleries are the Lyle and Nancy Campbell Art Gallery on the main floor and the Roy and Bobbi Reiman Public Art Studio Gallery on the lower level of Morrill Hall.

Elizabeth and Byron Anderson Sculpture Garden

“The Elizabeth and Byron Anderson Sculpture Garden is an intimate outdoor space adjacent to Morrill Hall. Elizabeth Brookhart Anderson, a former student of campus sculptor-in-residence Christian Petersen, made a gift to establish this garden in memory of her husband in 2008. The garden is partially situated in a courtyard formed by Morrill Hall on the east and the Hub on the west. Here, the masonry walls of these two buildings provide a semiprivate enclosure for the enjoyment of sculpture, including several casts of Christian Petersen’s art. The garden extends along the walkway running south of Morrill Hall and across Morrill Road to the east, where Christian Petersen’s Panthers were installed in 2012. Planted with a variety of plant material, including ferns, hostas, roses, yews, and flowering trees, this garden marries art and nature to create a tranquil and verdant space.” – Campus Beautiful, pg. 305

Sculptures from the Art on Campus Collection and Christian Petersen Art Collection are permanently installed in the Anderson Sculpture Garden and juxtaposed with temporary two-year exhibitions of art by contemporary American sculptors who are included in the Art on Campus Collection. The inaugural exhibition in 2008 featured the abstract expressionist sculpture of Bill Barrett, which was followed by an abstract figure exhibition of sculpture by William King, and most recently featured the stylized animal sculpture of Gwynn Murrill. 

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