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Sculpting an Icon: Christian Petersen and the "Fountain of the Four Seasons"

Christian Petersen Art Museum
Reiman Gallery
January 17–July 26, 2024

Since its dedication on May 4, 1941, over a quarter million undergraduate students at Iowa State have experienced this campus icon.  Most current students and alumni are unware of the background of the fountain and the sculptures.  This exhibit will give the guest curator’s perspective of the people and events that may have influenced the final design.

In the early days, it was known as the VEISHEA fountain.  When it became known as the Fountain of the Four Seasons will be discovered in further research.  Petersen made some concept sketches of other fountain designs, but the final sculpture designs took shape in the fall of 1940 at the National Corn Husking Contest held in Davenport, Iowa.  The sculptures were part of a major exhibition prepared by Iowa State showing the origins, colonization, commercialization, open pollinations, and hybridization of corn.

Peterson actually worked on clay models of the sculptures and Horticulture Professor, J.C. Cunningham, a corn historian, displayed early examples of corn and corn cultivation artifacts.

The exhibition will present the original clay models and will be divided into four segments.  First, the influence and friendship with Edgar Harlan, Curator of the Iowa Historical Department and early benefactor of Petersen.  Second the probable influence of his art as illustrator of the 1936 children’s book Cha-Ki-Shi by Halla Rhode and Bessie Coon.  Third, the likely influence of his friend, J.C. Cunningham.  Fourth, other sketches and possible designs for the fountain that were not favored in the final sculpture.

The exhibition will feature two Petersen sculptures commissioned by Edgar Harlan, a number of original drawings for the Cha-Ki-Shi book, Meskwaki artifacts borrowed from the State Historical Society of Iowa that reflect some of the drawings, and Petersen’ concept illustrations for other fountain designs.  It will also include reproductions of relevant photographs from the Harlan scrapbooks at Drake University, the State Historical Society of Iowa and the J.C. Cunningham collection in the Iowa State University Archives.

-Jerome Thompson, guest curator

Learn More


View texts and images associated with this exhibition including the introduction, curator's statement, background information and more.

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Christian Petersen Catalogue Raisonné

Newly published in 2024, the Christian Petersen Catalogue Raisonné is the first online/digital representation of the known body of Christian Petersen’s works of art, over 1,200 objects. Organized by years as well as by medium, and completely searchable, there are some themed areas of Petersen’s body of work to be explored. An updated chronology of Petersen’s life and past scholarly lectures are all available from this page.

View the Christian Petersen Catalogue Raisonné

This project is graciously funded by Joanne and Charles Frederiksen, Carole Horowitz and University Museums Membership. Many thanks to the scholars, interns, Museum staff and donors who have helped make this online catalogue and ongoing research into Petersen’s life and career possible.

Book Sale

In conjunction with the above exhibition, we have discounted several of our best scholarly publications on the unique art and aesthetics of Iowa State University's artist-in-residence, Christian Petersen.

Visit the Sale Page

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. Click the event title for more information and/or to register. Events listed below will be at the Christian Petersen Art Museum, Campbell Gallery (1017 Morrill Hall, 603 Morrill Road, Ames, Iowa) unless otherwise noted. Programs are subject to change. Check the University Museums Calendar and Facebook page for the latest events information.


Exhibition Tour
with Sydney Marshall

Thursday, January 25, 5:00–6:00 p.m.

Join Art on Campus curator Sydney Marshall as she highlights objects within the two exhibitions guest curated by Jerome Thompson. Explore how Christian Petersen’s works of art have transformed the visual legacy of ISU’s campus. Begins in the Campbell Gallery, 1017 Morrill Hall.


Reception & Curator's Talk
with Jerome Thompson

Sunday, February 4, 2:00–4:00 p.m.

Stroll through the galleries with guest curator Jerome Thompson for the opening reception of the Christian Petersen Art Museum’s spring exhibitions. Thompson’s talk will begin at 2:30 p.m.


Native American Cropping Practices, Pre-Contact to Today
with Derrick Kapayou

Thursday, March 7, 5:30–6:30 p.m.

Join Natural Resource Ecology and Management PhD candidate Derrick Kapayou for a conversation on the evolution of Native American agricultural traditions and delve into current research on the topic.


Art Walk | Christian Petersen's Footsteps
led by docent Dana Schumacher

Wednesday, March 27, noon–1:00 p.m.
Meet at University Library, Grant Wood mural

In partnership with Christian Petersen: A Sense of Place in Campus Life, take time to enjoy a selection of Christian Petersen’s public art around central campus. Meet docent Dana Schumacher at the Grant Wood murals/Library Boy and Girl inside the University Library. 


Open House Weekend

Saturday & Sunday, April 27 & 28, 1:00–4:00 p.m.
Christian Petersen Art Museum & Farm House Museum

Having trouble getting to the museum during the week? Enjoy the University Museums’ central campus locations and spring exhibitions during an open house weekend.


Fountain of the Four Seasons | The Plan & Seed Planting

Sunday, May 5, noon–1:00 p.m.
Begins at Memorial Union north entrance

Learn the latest update on the conservation project surrounding the Fountain and then walk to Morrill Hall to take home a seed to plant in time for spring. Learn from guest curator Jerome Thompson about the impact of corn and agricultural practices on the creation of the Fountain’s design.



Visit the Christian Petersen Art Museum

Monday–Friday, 10:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m.

Closed Saturday & Sunday and University holidays & breaks
Click here to see when the museums are closed.

Address: 1017 Morrill Hall, 603 Morrill Road, Ames, Iowa
Admission: The cost is free; however, there is a suggested donation of $8.

This exhibition is guest curated by Jerome Thompson and coordinated by University Museums, with support by Lorraine Bruns Estate, Carol & David Hawn, Beverly and Warren Madden, Rae Reilly, Stewart L. Burger and University Museums Membership.


Detail of History of Dairying, 1934
Christian Petersen (Danish - American, 1885–1961)
Terra cotta
Commissioned by Iowa State College. In the Christian Petersen Art Collection, Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. U88.64a-g


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