Christian Petersen (Danish-American, 1885-1961)
Farmer and His Wife Looking Over Their Land, c.1940s
Colored pencil on paper
Purchased with funds from the Christian Petersen Memorial Fund. In the Christian Petersen Art Collection, Christian Petersen Art Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University. UM92.188a
This drawing may seem out of place in an exhibition on Petersen’s works of art about war. The very fact, however, that it represents everything that is the opposite of war: peace, contentment, prosperity, and enduring relationships, argues for its being a wartime commentary. The allure of home and the hope of returning to a secure, peaceful life are part of a soldier’s experience, and perhaps especially so in citizen armies such as the one
America raised during World War II. It is an unusually well-developed drawing and even includes a frame drawn around it as if Petersen were thinking of it as a finished work of art.
Petersen drew a man standing with a young woman as they gaze together over a broad expanse of land with cattle in a pasture and a handsome farmhouse and barn. It is the very epitome of Iowa with its heartland stability, productivity, and healthful, long-term relationships. It is home and family and land and the promise of the future: all of the things people fight for. The young woman leans back against the man who reaches around to take her right hand in his. Their physical closeness and obvious contentment might represent the sort of relationships to which soldiers longed to return or have the chance to create after the war. The man is dressed in overalls and a broad-brimmed hat that identify him as a farmer, the quintessential Jeffersonian American. His face is hidden by the head of the woman whose face is seen in profile. Typical of Petersen’s imagery, the emotional tone is subdued and not dramatic. The drawing is dated partly by the hairstyle and dress of the young woman which suggests the late 1940s or possibly the early 1950s.
We have no idea why Petersen drew such an atypical scene or why he elaborated it beyond a quick sketch. But the tone of the image seem to evoke a sense of home as well as a feeling of gratitude or blessing at being once and for all in one’s own country.