University Museums

Title: Country Doctor
Name: Sculpture
Date: 1936
Medium: Painted plaster
Dimensions: 32 x 9 1/2 x 14 1/2 in. (81.3 x 24.1 x 36.8 cm)
Classification: Sculpture
Credit Line: Gift of Helen Sebek. In the Christian Petersen Art Collection, Christian Petersen Art Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.
Object Number: UM99.298
More Information
During his early years at Iowa State, Petersen was so busy with campus monuments and his overflowing classes that he seldom worked on smaller sculptures. This is one of the earliest such objects after his move to the Midwest, using a sculptural scale that Petersen would employ frequently in the future. His inspiration for this quietly heroic image of a physician making his way during a freezing Iowa winter must have arisen from his gratitude to two doctors who had treated him and his wife during the 1930’s: Dr. Charles Ryan of Des Moines (he also sculpted a small figure of Dr. Ryan) and Dr. A.I. Haugen of Ames (whose five children he later sculpted). Petersen wrote about his figure: “The sculptor…must place in a single figure all of the self-sacrifice, kindly good will, dependable patience, gentle gruffness, and shrewdness of insight in human nature (of) the American country doctor…No matter what was the weather, the time, no matter how fatigued they may be, they are always at beck and call, and they can be depended upon to arrive in time…I have tried to call up in the imagination of these who see the piece the untiring dependability, the confidence, the universality and all the rest of the characteristics which make up that great institution we have come to designate as The Country Doctor.”

Petersen apparently sent to former president Hughes a photograph of the statute which has been taken by Cedar Rapids photographer, John Barry, who had made the famous photographs of Grant Wood and John Steuart Curry at Stone City in the early 1930s. Hughes wrote about Country Doctor, “I think it is one of the finest things he has done and absolutely first class. It looks to me as if it ought to be cut in marble.” In fact, no known works by Petersen are in marble. Nearly all of his sculptures were done in plaster, terra cotta or limestone.