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Carry On

Published onJan 28, 2022
Carry On

Christian Petersen (Danish-American, 1885-1961)

Carry On, c.1932

Clay or painted plaster


In 1932, while Christian Petersen was in Des Moines carrying out portrait commissions for local patrons, he submitted a proposal to the Iowa American Legion for a memorial to World War I.  It depicted a young man straining with his dying breath to lift a torch, as inspired by the most famous poem to emerge from the World War I, In Flanders Fields, written by a Canadian soldier in 1915. Petersen included on the base of his sculpture a portion of the poem: “To you from failing hands we throw / The torch; be yours to hold it high.”  It is possible that Petersen had designed his sculpture in the 1920s, not long after the war ended, but had not found a patron for it. The current whereabouts of this sculpture is currently unknown.

In 1928, he left the east coast and moved to the Midwest where he hoped to find a more hospitable atmosphere for his artistic ambitions.  He may have felt that his name was so associated with commercial work that he would never be able to realize his goal of being a full-time sculptor.  At first he lived in Chicago, but the Great Depression, which began in 1929, left him with few opportunities, as it did most American artists. His war memorial proposal to the American Legion was part of Petersen’s efforts to support himself, and when the Legion failed to award him a commission, his situation grew even more desperate. That same year of 1932, however, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected president and his New Deal soon established programs such as the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) that aided artists such as Petersen. Grant Wood invited Petersen to join Iowa’s PWAP, and in 1934 he began to work as a full-time, fully employed sculptor.

Later on, at the beginning of World War II, Petersen incorporated his dying young soldier of Carry On into a new sculpture, Men of Two Wars, seen nearby.

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