University Museums

Title: Soon After the Flood or Three Children on a Mule
Name: Sculpture
Date: 1939
Period: Depression Era
Medium: Painted plaster
Dimensions: 26 x 22 x 8 in. (66 x 55.9 x 20.3 cm)
Classification: Sculpture
Credit Line: Gift of Bernice Burns Donovan and Esther Burns. Conservation funded by the Stockman Foundation. In the Christian Art Petersen Collection, Christian Petersen Art Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.
Object Number: um85.50
More Information
In the summer of 1938, devastating floods in the Kentucky hill country proved to be a turning point in the career of an artist from Iowa. Christian Petersen was actually thinking of giving up sculpting and resuming die-cutting and engraving, a much more lucrative but stifling option for the artist. Petersen traveled to Kentucky to sketch the president of the University of Kentucky, Frank LeRonde McVey, in preparation for a commissioned bronze. Traveling by car, Petersen stopped often to witness the grief and desperation of the sharecroppers who had lost their land and loved ones, even attending a simple funeral near Wilhurst, Kentucky, to share in one family's mourning. Yet Petersen marveled at the people’s faith and conviction that they would be delivered out of their misery.

The events of 1938 inspired Petersen to resume pursuit of his sculpting career, regardless of the personal sacrifice. He also was moved to produce the unusual work, "Soon after the Flood", which looks at the tragedy through the eyes of children. Petersen often used children as subject matter in his art, but never to depict such sadness. The anxiety and wistfulness of the three figures-victims of the flood-crowded onto the back of a mule are made more poignant by the pleading gaze of the two older children. Petersen sculpted this figurative group the following year in his studio.