University Museums

Title: Conversations
Name: Sculpture grouping
Date: 1947-1955
Medium: Bedford limestone (figure groups) and red brick wall
Dimensions: 82 3/16 x 750 x 40 13/16 in. (208.8 x 1905 x 103.6 cm)
Classification: Sculpture
Credit Line: Commissioned by Iowa State College. In the Christian Petersen Art Collection, the Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University.
Location: Iowa State University, Oak Hall, South entrance courtyard
Object Number: U88.63
More Information
The sculptures of students on the grounds of the Oak-Elm residence halls are monumental not only in size, but also in the history of Iowa State's public art. Conversations was Christian Petersen's last major sculpture for Iowa State before he retired in 1955. Petersen carved the three groupings of a total of six figures from forty tons of Bedford limestone during an eight-year period. The figures show three women looking at a book, a college couple in love and a thoughtful young woman with her hands folded around her legs.

The artist carefully planned the sculpture groupings for a wall at the major east entrance to campus near Lincoln Way and Beach Avenue. He also had planned another grouping of figures for a wall opposite this one and an outdoor amphitheater, but they were never carved. When Conversations was completed, the entrance to campus was rejected as the location for the sculptures due to campus expansion and road improvement. The sculptures were place in storage until 1963, two years after Petersen's death, when they were finally installed at Oak-Elm. The sculptor had selected the final site two months before he died.

Christian Petersen (Danish-American, 1885-1961) emigrated from Denmark. As a young
man, Petersen went to the Newark Technical School to study die cutting. In 1920, he became the apprentice of Boston artist Henry Hudson Kiston, who trained Petersen in a narrative and symbolic sculptural style, often used for historic monuments. In the aftermath of World War I, demand for such specialized styles were high. In 1928, Petersen moved to the Midwest with the regionalist notion that it was becoming the cultural center of the United States. He settled in Chicago, with the intent of pursuing sculptural commissions full-time. The crippling blow of the Great Depression necessitated his return to commercial die cutting. By the 1940s, Petersen had moved again, this time to Iowa State University at the request of Grant Wood. There, Petersen began his legendary 21-year tenure as one of the University's most revered professors and the nation's first permanent artist-in-residence. In 1955, Petersen retired, but left a legacy of signature sculptures; the nucleus of Iowa State's expansive public art collection