University Museums

Title: History of Dairying Mural
Name: Sculpture, fountain and six bas relief panels
Date: 1934
Medium: Terra cotta
Dimensions: Wall Relief: 84 x 972 in. (213.4 x 2468.9 cm) Pool: 327 x 207 15/16 in. (830.6 x 528.2 cm)
Classification: Sculpture
Credit Line: Commissioned by Iowa State College. In the Christian Petersen Art Collection, Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University.
Location: Iowa State University, Food Sciences, Courtyard
Object Number: U88.64a-g
More Information
This mural, composed of six bas relief panels flanking a central fountain, depicts the history of the dairy industry in Iowa and America. The first three panels, located to the left of the fountain, depict the 19th century processes involved with the dairy production. At that time, everyone in the family took part in the milk production process: hand milking, straining, butter churning, and hauling milk to town were all part of the process before the advent of technological advances. The three panels to the right of the fountain portray milk production in the early 1930s. By this time, dairy operations were transforming from small farms into production at commercial facilities, as well as becoming an area of academic study at Iowa State College. The far right panel features a mechanical milking machine and the other two panels represent a Babcock Testing Machine and equipment for pasteurizing, cooling and cheese making. In the center of the six panels, a bull gazes over three Jersey cows drinking from the fountain overflowing to the pool below. This bas relief mural is the only known existing sculpture created in Iowa under the Depression-era federal Public Works of Art Project. The style is influenced by Grant Wood's Regionalist style, depicting images as flattened and simplistic, almost folk-like. Petersen's knowledge of art history is apparent throughout this work, along with Art Deco influences, shown by his overlap of geometric design and repeated forms.

Christian Petersen, (American, 1885-1961) practiced his art during a transitional stage in American sculpture when styles moved from the heroic to realistic. He immigrated to the United States from Denmark with his family in 1894. After attending several different art schools, beginning a die-cutting career, and receiving comparative public sculpture commissions, Petersen moved to the Midwest. It was here that he was invited to join the Iowa Public Works of Art Project under the direction of Grant Wood in Iowa City. In 1934, Iowa State President Raymond Hughes offered Petersen a one-semester residency to create the fountain and bas-reliefs in the Dairy Industry Building courtyard. One semester turned into 21 years, and from 1934 to 1955, Petersen served as Iowa State's sculptor-in-residence. At the time, he was the only sculptor-in-residence at any college or university in the United States, for which he earned $25 per week. Petersen created 12 major public art sculptures on the Iowa State campus.

Published References: Delong, Lea Rosson. "When Tillage Begins, Other Arts Follow: Grant Wood and Christian Petersen Murals" (University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa)