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"Fountain of the Four Seasons" History

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Brief History

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

Fountain of the Four Seasons Timeline


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.

Link to University Library Special Collections Archive 


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.) 

Link to University Library Special Collections Archive


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.


In November, the Maidens and fountain head were removed and sent to carvers in Vermont to be replicated.



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