University Museums

Title: Marriage Ring
Name: Sculpture
Date: 1994
Medium: Reinforced concrete
Dimensions: 32 x 60 x 18 in. (81.3 x 152.4 x 45.7 cm)
Marks: Christian Petersen enscribed on the end block.
Classification: Sculpture
Credit Line: Commissioned by University Museums with funds from the College of Family and Consumer Sciences Alumni Association. In the Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.
Location: Iowa State University, MacKay Hall, South courtyard
Object Number: U94.13
More Information
This playful scene depicts three life-sized children, sculpted at the edge of a circular pool. A young girl leans over the edge to gently cups a water lily, while two boys are see sitting on the edge of the pool, intently studying a turtle. The children are oblivious to their surroundings and are utterly absorbed in the moment. The circular basin of the pool represents a wedding ring and the valuable gems of the ring are symbolized by the three children, which Petersen considered the jewels of a marriage. Around the outside of the pool are words from the poem The Hired Man's Faith in Children by James Whitcomb Riley:
"I believe all children's good,
Ef they're only understood,
Even bad ones, 'pears to me,
'S jes' as good as they kin be!"


The composition suggests a captured moment of children at play. The use of green plant and grass motifs flank the children and are repeated both inside and outside of the ring, linking both the sculpture and the pool to its surroundings. This sculpture is also known as Wedding Ring or Ring of Life. The original was conserved and is now located in the south foyer of MacKay Hall. The reproduction, due to vandalism, was cast and reinforced concrete in 1991.

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.