Photo by Chris Gannon
The Fountain of the Four Seasons is an iconic landmark at Iowa State University with its imagery associated with campus as much as the Campanile, Lake LaVerne, and Cy. This work of public art contributes significantly to the beauty for which this land grant institution is known. The Fountain of the Four Seasons is often included in photos and videos celebrating milestones for Iowa State, for the campus community, and for individuals. Because of its importance, it is essential that the Fountain of the Four Seasons is properly preserved and maintained.
It is time for conservation of the Fountain of the Four Seasons. This page will stay updated about this process with the latest information. Click on a subject below to expand.
The central fountainhead was completed by Christian Petersen in 1941. Christian Petersen was the artist-in-residence at Iowa State University at the time as well as teaching sculpture to Iowa State students. In 1940, Petersen was commissioned by then President Friley to create a work of art to place in the already existing pool structure.
The significance of this work of art is incalculable as it contributes to Iowa State University’s public identity. Like the architecturally iconic Campanile, no other public sculpture better visually defines the aesthetics of the University.
Christian Petersen is an important artist in Iowa State’s public art legacy, creating numerous public works of art such as the Fountain of the Four Seasons, Library Boy and Girl, Three Athletes, Conversations, History of Dairying, George Washington Carver, and many more. Christian Petersen’s artistic style is considered Regionalism, mostly expressed during the 1930s and 1940s, and his iconic sculptures have come to add placemaking identity across the Iowa State University campus.
According to Dr. Lea Rosson DeLong in her book Christian Petersen, Sculptor (2001), the Fountain was inspired by Petersen’s work in 1936 illustrating a children’s book, Cha-Ki-Shi, with the Meskwaki tribe at the Tama settlement. Petersen “consulted with geneticist-poet friend J.C. Cunningham, who shared that interest." The professor soon supplied a four-line Osage chant:
Lo, I come to the tender planting
Lo, a tender shoot breaks forth
Lo, I collect the golden harvest
Lo, there is joy in my house.
First created in plaster for consideration by President Friley, these sculptures were sent to the national cornhusking championship in Davenport, where they were met with approval. The four plaster Maiden models can be found in Curtiss Hall.
The central ring of terra cotta surrounding the fountainhead features corn shoots beginning to grow. This connects the chant of Osage harvest to the educational and agricultural heritage of Iowa and Iowa State University through the cultivation of corn as a symbol of the cultivation of an education.
Along with the Maidens and the terra cotta ring, even the design of the spray of water was created by Petersen.
Petersen rarely described his works, but in this case, he explained how the curving jets that spout inward toward the center column of water reflect the shapes of nature, that the sculptures and water together with the poetry of the chant express balance and harmony with nature. -curator Dr. Lea Rosson De Long
Iowa State College President Hughes offered a sculptor residency to Christian Petersen making him the first permanent campus artist-in-residence in the United States
Petersen visited the Meskwaki Nation in Tama to work of drawings to illustrate the Cha-Ki-Shi book. From these drawings, the future Maidens of the Fountain of the Four Seasons were inspired.
Petersen installs the first of many public sculptures on Iowa State College (now University) campus, The History of Dairying located in the Food Sciences courtyard. An open house was held May 10 as a feature of the campus-wide VEISHEA celebration of colleges.
The original fountain and pool, composed of three vertical water spouts and a simple reflecting pool, was a gift from the 1936 VEISHEA Central Committee and dedicated in 1937.
In spring of 1940, Iowa State President Charles Friley directed Christian Petersen to create a sculpture to be placed in the Memorial Union reflecting pool. Within two days Petersen created conceptional drawings inspired from an Osage chant:
Lo, I come to the tender planting.
Lo, a tender shoot breaks forth.
Lo, I collect the golden harvest.
Lo, there is joy in my house.
After Friley approved the drawings and a miniature model, Petersen created full-scale plaster models of the Maidens. These were trucked to the national cornhusking championships in Davenport in the fall of 1940, where they received wide public approval.
By May 1941, Petersen had carved and chiseled the final four Maidens from Bedford limestone and installed then around a new fountainhead in the Union’s pool. Petersen’s Fountain of the Four Seasons is unveiled at the Iowa State Memorial Union. (Article from the Ames Daily Tribune published approximately Spring 1941. The Ames Daily Tribune article depicts Christian Petersen and others attending the unveiling of Petersen's statues created for the Iowa State Memorial Union fountain.)
On April 28 it was discovered that the head of the nursing Maiden was broken off during the weekend. The Memorial Union had the head and would undertake efforts to reattached it in the months following. (Iowa State Daily article, April 28, 1972)
The Brunnier Museum and Gallery (now Brunnier Art Museum) announced a program to inspect and conserve Petersen’s outdoor sculptures.
The fountain was inspected on two separate occasions. In April 1995 Linda Merk-Gould and Joseph Sembrat of Conservation Technical Associates Inc. conducted a general survey of the fountain's condition and obtained samples for testing and analyses. In May 1995 Martin Weaver, of Martin Weaver Conservation Consultant Inc., Linda Merk-Gould and Joseph Sembrat conducted further analyses of the fountain's construction and performed cleaning tests for the limestone and terra cotta surfaces.
Conservation project for the Fountain announced and fundraising begins. (Des Moines Register article, 5/6/1996)
Major conservation was completed on the Fountain including removal of the Maidens and terra cotta ring with offsite conservation treatment by Linda Merk-Gould from Westport, Conn., and apprentice Francis Miller. The fountain received new stainless steel plumbing system and a pool liner. The sculptures and terra cotta ring were cleaned using ultrasonic methods and reinstalled in the spring of 1998. During the summer of 1998 problems arose with algae and also the mortar had not cured and was leaving white sediment on the sculptures. In July 1998 Conservation Technical Associates cleaned the sculptures removing algae and mortar.
Conservation and major cleaning by Francis Miller, ConservArt LLC.
Conservation by Francis Miller with plumbing work and pool repainting. The ceramic and limestone had discoloration from organic growth and lime deposits and iron staining. The mortar below a capstone failed. The Fountain was cleaned following procedures set out by ConservArt LLC in 2011.
Conservation by Francis Miller and Kate Greder and noted stress in fountain head concrete structure and terra cotta ‘corn’ motif, especially in north-east section of the fountain head. College of Engineering (Wayne Klaiber) conducted preliminary concrete and soil testing/borings.
The Fountain of the Four Seasons is part of Iowa State University’s larger Art on Campus Collection. Iowa State University is home to one of the largest campus public art programs in the United States. Over 2,500 public works of art make up the Art on Campus Collection, and are located across campus in buildings, courtyards, open spaces and classrooms. Iowa State’s public art contributes to a beautiful campus, and it is required to be intellectually relevant and utilized in curricula. The Art on Campus Collection and Program, formalized in 1980, includes acquisition, care and maintenance in addition to scholarship and educational programming.
The pool structure will be undergoing reconstruction to stabilize the basin, as well as to increase the water use efficiency of the fountain. This aspect of the project aims to make the fountain eco-friendlier and the upkeep sustainable. The pool and plumbing system will undergo updates to the water filtration, have a new pool coating system, as well as lighting upgrades.
In late fall of 2022, the fountainhead sculptures, including the four Maidens as well as the terra cotta ring surrounding the fountainhead will be removed and relocated off-site for replication and conservation treatments. The Maidens will be in Indiana while their replications are carved from Indiana limestone (also known as Bedford limestone). This stone was used by Petersen in the 1940s for the original Maidens, as well as in other sculptures on ISU’s campus such as Conversations and Library Boy and Girl.
The timeline for this project will be updated with more details as they are known. Dates and times are subject to change and can be weather dependent.
November 2022- Removal of the original Fountain of the Four Seasons sculpture for conservation and replication.
November 2022-July 2023- Offsite replication and conservation of the Maidens.
Spring 2023- Construction on the fountain site at the Memorial Union, with work to stabilize the pool structure, increase water use efficiency, and update water filtration system.
Fall 2023: Replicated Maidens and terra cotta ring installed. The pool will remain unfilled for the season to allow time for materials to properly cure.
Spring 2024: Filling of the fountain.
This conservation and replication project has been in planning for multiple years, as analysis of the condition of the fountain has been recorded and monitored during previous smaller scale treatments. From conservator Francis Miller’s 2020 report:
The original, hand carved finishes of the limestone Maidens have deteriorated, leaving the outer stone layer more porous and susceptible to weathering and acidic exposure. The loss of single stone grains can contribute to considerable loss of finish. Continued exposure outdoors, treatment for deposit and stain cleaning, and even basic maintenance, will lead to further damage. The terra cotta surfaces are in relatively good condition but have slight crazing, small losses, losses along edges, losses from sandblasting, cracks and breaks in the spills.
The fountainhead basin is cracked with failing concrete. The surrounding limestone wall has cracked and failing in the lower units.
This conservation project will address issues with the 1937 pool, the of wear from over 80 years the Maidens have spent outdoors, and end further considerable wear on the original sculptures by re-carving the original sculpture and placing the 1941 Maidens indoors.
The Fountain of the Four Seasons has had a long history of care and conservation. Like all public works of art, particularly those placed outdoors in the harsh Iowa weather and with water features, routine maintenance is required. The environmental impact on stone sculptures placed in a fountain are another added stressor on the sculptures. Limestone is porous, and with eight decades of flowing water, the details of the Maidens are being washed away.
1972 The head of the Winter Maiden was repaired after vandalism.
April 1995 Linda Merk-Gould and Joseph Sembrat of Conservation Technical Associates Inc. conducted a general survey of the fountain's condition and obtained samples for testing and analyses.
May 1995 Martin Weaver, of Martin Weaver Conservation Consultant Inc., Linda Merk-Gould and Joseph Sembrat conducted further analyses of the fountain's construction and performed cleaning tests for the limestone and terra cotta surfaces.
1996 Conservation project for the Fountain was announced and fundraising began.
1998 Major conservation was completed on the Fountain including removal of the Maidens and terra-cotta ring with off-site conservation treatment by Linda Merk-Gould from Westport, Conn., and apprentice Francis Miller. The fountain received new stainless steel plumbing system and a pool liner. The sculptures and terra-cotta ring were cleaned using ultra-sonic methods and reinstalled in the spring of 1998. During the summer of 1998 problems arose with algae and the mortar had not cured leaving white sediment on the sculptures. In July 1998, Conservation Technical Associates cleaned the sculptures removing algae and mortar.
2012 Conservation and major cleaning by Francis Miller, ConservArt LLC.
2016 Conservation by Francis Miller with plumbing work and pool repainting. The ceramic and limestone had discoloration from organic growth, lime deposits, and iron staining. The mortar below a capstone failed. The Fountain was cleaned following procedures set out by ConservArt LLC in 2011.
2018 Conservation by Francis Miller and Kate Greder who noted stress in fountainhead concrete structure and terra cotta ‘corn’ motif, especially in north-east section of the fountainhead. College of Engineering (Wayne Klaiber) conducted preliminary concrete and soil testing/borings.
2020 Research conducted by conservator Francis Miller to create a conservation plan for the re-carving and conservation of the Maidens and terra cotta sculptures.
November 2022 Current conservation and replication project begins.
Maidens and terra cotta ring are removed and transported to stone carvers.
Facilities Planning and Management handle the pool portion of this project.
For information about events, activities, and access at the Memorial Union: www.mu.iastate.edu
As a hot spot for many to capture their campus adventure, please note that the site will not be as expected and will flux with the work required. This project is undertaken so that future generations of the Iowa State community will experience this campus icon.
The Maidens and terra cotta ring will be off campus from November 2022 through fall 2023 with only the exposed fountainhead plumbing visible. (The reinstallation date in the fall is tentative). The pool will be removed in spring 2023 and then reconstructed.
The space in front of the Memorial Union surrounding the pool structure will be open for passersby from November 2022 through early spring 2023. When construction begins on the pool structure, fencing will cut off access to the pool structure and the walkways surrounding it.
The pool and fountain will not run until spring of 2024.
Donate to the ongoing conservation of the Art on Campus Collection
This is a project funded by the Office of the President, but each object in the Art on Campus Collection, and the University Museums' permanent collection as a whole, has a unique set of needs for conservation to protect these objects for generations to come. Contributing to conservation within University Museums allows this work to continue, including bringing in conservation experts to work on objects in the University Museums collection.
Protect the Fountain of the Four Seasons
The works of art in the Art on Campus Collection can be protected for generations to come by your actions! Specifically for the Fountain of the Four Seasons, keeping the water at an acceptable chemical level is important for the long-term care of the carved Maidens.
When soap, plant material, coins, other objects or people are placed in the pool, this balance can be disturbed, and can even lead to the Fountain needing to be drained completely. Not only is this a stress on the works of art, but this is also a large water conservation issue.
The modifications completed on the Fountain will allow the water to be recirculated and filtered, conserving water throughout the season, as long as outside materials are not thrown in.
Protect Iowa State's artistic heritage! Please do not put objects or allow people in the pool or fountain!
Share Your Story
Throughout the process of the conservation of the Fountain of the Four Seasons, University Museums would love to receive your memories of the Fountain over the years.
Spread your love of the Fountain of the Four Seasons by sharing your stories on social media. Did you have graduation photos there? Wedding photos? Family portraits? Capture a beautiful sunrise or sunset? Use #Fountain4Seasons or tag University Museums in your posts.
Email us your photos and stories at firstname.lastname@example.org and with your permission, we might share them on our website, eNews, and/or social media.
Fountain of the Four Seasons, 1941
Christian Petersen (Danish-American, 1885-1961)
Bedford limestone, terra cotta
Commissioned by Iowa State College. In the Christian Petersen Art Collection, Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. U88.69
More on eMuseums