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PERSPECTIVE: Learn more about the Anderson Sculpture Garden

Posted on July 15, 2020 at 4:00 PM by Ellen Sattler

Hello, I’m Ellen Sattler, the Elizabeth Anderson Intern for the Anderson Sculpture Garden. The garden was made possible by Elizabeth Anderson, an Iowa State alumna who funded the garden in honor of her late husband and fellow Iowa Stater, Byron Anderson. The garden embodies both Byron’s interest in gardening and Elizabeth’s love of sculpture.

LEFT: Elizabeth & Byron Anderson, c. 1950
MIDDLE: Artist Christian Petersen with Conversations, his last sculpture for Iowa State before he retired in 1955.
RIGHT: Blue Boy by Elizabeth Anderson

While at Iowa State in the 1950’s, Elizabeth took a class taught by Christian Petersen, who was a faculty member and the artist-in-residence sculptor that created twelve major site-specific sculptures that are now part of the Art on Campus Collection, such as Fountain of the Four Seasons and Library Boy and Girl. As his last and only student in her final quarter, Elizabeth created a life-like clay sculpture she called Blue Boy as Petersen sculpted Conversations, which can be found outside Oak-Elm residence hall today. Elizabeth treasured Petersen’s guidance, and her interest in art continued throughout her life. To honor Petersen after he passed away, Elizabeth put effort and funding into finding Petersen’s beginnings. His legacy was widely shared by University Museums for years prior to the establishment of the Christian Petersen Art Museum. Her generous donation resulted in the creation of Christian Petersen: Urban Artist, 1900-1934. This was the inaugural exhibition at the Christian Petersen Art Museum. Today, Petersen’s sculptures contribute to Iowa State’s Art on Campus Program and Collection, which is the largest campus public art collection in the nation. The Christian Petersen Art Museum, established in 2007, is housed inside Morrill Hall. The Anderson Sculpture Garden surrounds Morrill Hall and was created in 2008 after a discussion with Elizabeth at the museum’s opening. After inquiring about future Museum goals and projects, Elizabeth volunteered graciously to fund the Sculpture Garden, and so the adventure began. 

LEFT: Elizabeth Anderson stands in the Christian Petersen Art Museum.
RIGHT: Ellen Sattler, the Elizabeth & Byron Anderson Sculpture Garden Intern

As the Elizabeth Anderson Sculpture Garden Intern, I have enjoyed being part of this venture. My main job is helping make landscaping decisions for the Anderson Sculpture Garden, which extends from the Hub and Morrill Hall to Christian Petersen’s Panthers, east of Morrill Hall. Many times Byron and Elizabeth would meet at the steps of Morrill Hall between their classes, so the garden’s location is very meaningful to her. Iowa State’s campus as a whole has been highly regarded nationally for its beauty and landscape design, and the garden contributes to this. The combination of twentieth and twenty-first century art with unique plantings makes meandering through the garden a lovely experience. Sculptures here are either on loan from artists or are part of the University Museums’ permanent Art on Campus Collection.

As a horticulture major, I have enjoyed working with my University Museums to discuss the theme and goals of the garden, determine site characteristics such as light and dampness of soil, evaluate the existing plantings, and research new exciting and hardy plant varieties to incorporate. Much was taken into account when choosing plants, such as a variety of bloom time, color, uniqueness and form. I learned that these elements can be a lot to keep track of, and it can take time to develop a solid plant palette to work with. We have chosen and planted several eccentric varieties of classic plants like coral bells, astilbe, and dicentra, which totals to over 300 new plants. We have also implemented more uncommon perennials, like Cinnamon Fern, Burgundy Loosestrife, and Cimicifuga (look them up; they’re very pretty!). Lately I have been watering the garden twice a week, weeding, and dividing and transplanting “veteran” plants on cooler days. We also just planted a new bed, which is between Morrill Hall and the Hub using transplants and new plants, so there is much transformation!

In the next few months, one of the things we are looking forward to this fall is planting spring-flowering bulbs. These bulbs, including squill, alliums, and crocus, grow most successfully if planted in October. They will be the first plants to poke through the earth and greet you in early spring with a variety of height, color, and form. We will also be creating a plant highlights guide to help lead people through the garden. The sculptures will act as landmarks to guide the reader of the pamphlet around the garden, and selected plants will be highlighted. As this is not finished yet, if you just would like to walk through the garden and still have an educational experience, we’ve created garden labels with both the scientific and common name of the plants. I’ve learned a lot during the research of these plants. The scientific names tell a lot about the origins relating to what plants could be used for. In addition, the artwork has many stories to tell, so I’m looking forward to sparking interest and conversation surrounding more than what you see at the Anderson Sculpture Garden at first glance.


BELOW: Christian Petersen's Abraham Lincoln watches over the Anderson Sculpture Garden.

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