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A look at Christian Petersen's early years

Posted on 04/15/2020 at 02:00 PM by Allison Sheridan

Did you know that ISU’s beloved sculptor Christian Petersen began his career working on the East Coast as a die-cutter? 
 

Petersen worked for several notable companies including Tilden-Thurber (Providence, RI), Robbins Co. and L.G. Balfour (Attleboro, MA), and Whitehead & Hoag (Newark, NJ). His die-cutting career included creating designs for the production of medals, medallions, spoons, and plaquettes often struck in silver or bronze. An artist such as Petersen who creates medals or medallions is called a medalist. The process of medallion creation often started with a paper design which once finalized was transferred to a die hub as a negative design by the artist. A blank in the metal of choice, typically bronze or silver, was mechanically hammer stamped with the two front and back die hubs creating the positive design of the medal. 

Some of the early designs by Petersen were known only via articles or select examples. As University Museums has attempted to enhance the history of Petersen’s career, these early die-cut design examples have been sought after and purchased or donated to the collection over the last five years. Most recently Richard Draper, a direct descendent of Christian Petersen’s sister Anna, donated a collection of early medallic art from the Whitehead and Hoag Company, including several by Petersen that were previously unknown. The body of the medallic art collection helps to outline who Petersen was working with, along with when and where he was working before his later career in Iowa. Unfortunately, many of the companies he worked for lost their records to fire or destruction so there is very little paper trail to trace the work of Petersen.

Currently the permanent collection includes wonderful examples of the early work of Petersen in medal design and spoons, as well as some of the original dies for medals. Selections can be seen in the images. These medallic arts feature U.S. Presidents, generals, Greek goddesses, landmarks and tourist locations, images of war and liberty, and notable people of the time. The medals served many purposes: some were created for and distributed at special events, as commemorative works marking a milestone, as post-service recognition, awards, or designs created to be adapted by the company for later purposes. Petersen’s medallic arts are found in notable collections including the Yale University Art Gallery - Numistics Collection, the Newark Museum in New Jersey, and the American Numismatic Society. 

The search for the early designs continues in an effort to add additional information to the Christian Petersen Catalogue Raisonné (a listing of his entire body of work). University Museums hopes to publish this updated catalogue free online in the next 6-8 months. If you have an original Christian Petersen object, have photographs or correspondence, or have any additional stories about Petersen’s life and work please contact us by emailing me at aclone@iastate.edu.
 


IMAGES

TOP LEFT: “George Washington” medal by Christian Petersen, c. 1929 based on Gilbert Stuart's portrait of the former president. Cast by Robbins Co. (Attleboro, MA). In the Christian Petersen Art Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.

MIDDLE RIGHT: Three medallion designs by Christian Petersen, c. 1920s. Adaptations of two of these designs were known to be produced by Robbins Co. and L.G. Balfour Co. (Attleboro, MA). In the Christian Petersen Art Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.

BOTTOM LEFT: “American Legion Medal, WWI” c. 1920s. Original die cut design by Christian Petersen. Manufactured by Robbins Co., Attleboro, MA. Sterling silver, enamel, grow grain ribbon. Gift of Allison Sheridan and Chris Conklin in memory of Edward and Elizabeth Sheridan. In the Christian Petersen Art Collection, Christian Petersen Art Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, IA. 

BOTTOM MIDDLE: Plaquette “Visit of Queen Marie of Romania to Hotel Sinton,” by Christian Petersen, 1926. Half portrait bas relief of the Queen facing left and wearing crown and jewels.  Cast by Whitehead and Hoag. Inscription top: HOTEL SINTON / CINCINNATI / OHIO / NOVEMBER 19TH 1926; Inscription bottom: MARIE / QUEEN OF ROUMANIA; Signed: C. Petersen, Sc. (W & H). Gift of Richard Draper. In the Christian Petersen Art Collection, Christian Petersen Art Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.

BOTTOM RIGHT: “American Legion Medal” by Christian Petersen, designed in 1920s, struck in 1926. Silver, enamel, grow-grain ribbon. Made by Robbins Co., Attleboro, MA. Gift of Lea Rosson DeLong. In the Christian Petersen Art Collection, Christian Petersen Art Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.

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