Skip to main content
ISU University Museums
Main Content

All the Evils... Christian Petersen and the Art of War

At the Christian Petersen Art Museum, Reiman Gallery
Morrill Hall, Lower Level Room 0003
Tuesday, January 18 - Friday, December 16, 2022

Click here to go in-depth at our PubPub.


Christian Petersen (1885-1961) was artist-in-residence at Iowa State from 1934 to 1955.  In fact, he was the first artist to hold such a position at an American college.  He joined what was then called Iowa State College in 1934, in the depths of the Great Depression. The college was able to hire him in part because of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, which included artists in its “stimulus package.” 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 (PWAP), enabled President 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 after only six months, Wood joined the faculty at the University of Iowa and Petersen became artist-in-residence at Iowa State, thus demonstrating the success of the federal support in stimulating the production of works of art and providing permanent employment for artists.  Both Wood’s painted murals and many of Petersen’s sculpted murals remain exactly where they were originally placed on the Iowa State campus in the 1930s.

Over the next 25 years, Petersen installed sculptures such as Fountain of the Four Seasons, Library Boy and Girl, and Conversations (Oak-Elm Group), throughout the campus.  Much of his work dealt with college life and with productive, peaceful endeavors.  These themes, plus his shy and quiet demeanor led to him sometimes being called the “gentle sculptor,” a play on the title of one of his most famous statues, The Gentle Doctor (part of the large installation Veterinary Medicine Mural at the Veterinary Medicine College). Christian Petersen was not, however, especially “gentle” when it came to an aspect of college life that affected students as much during his lifetime as it does today. He 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. Petersen hoped to place large-scale war memorials on campus and elsewhere, but unfortunately none were commissioned from him. 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.

Lea Rosson DeLong

View the University Museums' Christian Petersen Art Collection online


TOP IMAGE: Men of Two Wars, 1942. Painted Plaster. Gift of Charlotte Petersen; Memorial Union, ISU, Ames, Iowa; CPAC, Transferred to CPAC. In the Christian Petersen Art Collection, Christian Petersen Art Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.
SECOND IMAGE: U.S. Airman, c. 1920. Bronze. On loan from the private collection of Connie and Steve Mogg.
BELOW IMAGE: Price of Victory, 1944 by Christian Petersen. Painted plaster. Gift of Mary Petersen. Conservation funded by Stockman Foundation and Ellen and Bernard Skold. In the Christian Petersen Art Collection, Christian Petersen Art Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.

Exhibition Programs

Find full descriptions of programs on the University Museums Calendar. All programs are free and open to the public. Registration is encouraged but not required. Events listed below will be at the Reiman Gallery, Christian Petersen Art Museum (Lower Level of Morrill Hall, Room 0003) unless otherwise noted. Programs are subject to change. Check the University Museums Calendar and Facebook page for the latest events information.


Tears, Loss and Resiliency: Iowa State Student's Response to World War II

Wednesday, February 16, noon-1:00 pm

Join Lynette Pohlman, director and chief curator, University Museums, as she shares Charlotte Petersen’s stories of her husband’s response to war and the student experience in creating campus sculptures in the 1940s in response to World War II.  Program is presented in conjunction with the exhibition, All the Evils: Christian Petersen and the Art of War.


Open House Weekend

Saturday & Sunday, April 2 & 3, 1:00-4:00 pm

Having trouble getting to the museum during the week? Enjoy the Museums central campus locations and spring exhibitions during an open house weekend. At the Christian Petersen Art Museum see Julie Chang and All the Evils: Christian Petersen and the Art of War. At the Farm House Museum, the exhibition Arts & Craftsman: Simplicity, Honesty, and Truth to Materials will be open.


Curator's Tour of All the Evils... Christian Petersen and the Art of War

Sunday, May 15, 2:00-3:00 pm

Join curator Lea Rosson DeLong for a discussion on the works of art by Christian Petersen highlighting war and memorializing the sacrifices made by those involved. This talk will focus on Petersen’s work of art The Unknown Prisoner, which captures the grim realities of war rather than glorifying it.

Visit the Christian Petersen Art Museum

Hours: Monday-Friday, 10:00 am - 4:00 pm
Closed weekends and University Holidays
Address: Reiman Gallery, 0003 Morrill Hall, 603 Morrill Road, Ames, Iowa
Admission: The cost is free, however there is a suggested donation of $8.

All the Evils: Christian Petersen and the Art of War was curated by Lea Rosson DeLong, with coordination by University Museums. Works of art are from the Christian Petersen Art Collection with additional sculptures on loan from the private collections of Connie and Steve Mogg, and Carol Campbell. The exhibition is funded by Beverly and Warren Madden, Frankie and Cal Parrott, Diane and James Patton, and University Museums Membership.

© 2022 University Museums, Iowa State University. All rights reserved.