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Men of Two Wars

Published onJan 28, 2022
Men of Two Wars

Christian Petersen (Danish-American, 1885-1961)

Men of Two Wars, 1942

Painted plaster

Purchased by the Memorial Union, and transferred to the Christian Petersen Art Collection. In the Christian Petersen Art Collection, Christian Petersen Art Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University. UM2007.10


By the time World War II broke out, Christian Petersen had been teaching at Iowa State for about seven years, long enough to understand and lament the effect this war was going to have on his students. His studio in what was then the Veterinary Quadrangle (now Lagomarcino Hall) was the only classroom on campus where both the radio and the coffee pot were always on.  With his students there, he would have followed the daily broadcasts of the war news, perhaps often feeling acutely the burdens that many of them would encounter because of the conflict.  Soon after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brought war to America on December 7, 1941, Petersen began work on a sculpture that would express the awful continuity from World War I to World War II.

He revived an earlier sculptural idea that he had used in Carry On, in which a dying young soldier lifts a torch to pass on to other fighters.  Now he joined the figure of that young man, a World War I doughboy, with a second one, a G.I. of World War II.  Eliminating the torch, Petersen makes his point by placing the G.I. beside the soldier from the earlier war, ready to carry on the renewed struggle.  Both soldiers look outward, the doughboy straining to lift his head, the G.I. with a grim and determined focus.

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