University Museums

Title: Three Athletes
Name: Bas relief, Mural
Date: 1935-1936
Medium: Terra cotta
Dimensions: 73 x 92 x 5 in. (185.4 x 233.7 x 12.7 cm)
Marks: None
Classification: Sculpture
Credit Line: Commissioned by Iowa State College. In the Christian Petersen Art Collection, Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.
Location: Iowa State University, State Gymnasium, North exterior wall
Object Number: U88.75abc
More Information
In his second project for Iowa State, Christian Petersen designed a series of terra cotta bas reliefs for a new staircase added to the State Gymnasium in 1935 during a remodeling. Each of the three reliefs depicts a male athlete engaged in a collegiate sport. A football athlete and a track athlete are poised mid-stride, their movement toward the center of the relief grouping. They flank a basketball player standing firmly with feet spread wide. He is poised to make a shot, basketball held chest high, perfectly centered on his body.
The Three Athletes are depicted in high relief, allowing Petersen to develop intricate details. The spikes and cleats of the shoes are as vivid as the determined expression on each athlete's face. Their anatomy is finely incised into the clay, showing muscle, bone and tendon in suspended motion.
Petersen was cautioned against producing such detailed large murals, warned that they would not fir properly in the kiln. He designed them for the full length of the kiln- the same one used to create the large History of Dairying Mural and Fountain in the courtyard of the Food Sciences Building. Called the Cox Kiln, it was named after its creator, Paul E. Cox, Iowa State ceramics engineering professor. Cox and Petersen had a long and fruitful partnership while the two worked at Iowa State, resulting in four large-scale clay sculptures and mural on campus.