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A Century of Campus Portraiture

Published onMar 11, 2021
A Century of Campus Portraiture

A Century of Campus Portraiture  
Iowa State’s Portrait Legacy

What is Iowa State’s most prominent aesthetic portrait?  Of course, the beautiful central green. This 160-year old landscape portrait was conceived and developed by two agriculturalists–Peter Melendy and Adonijah Welch–who were also politicians, gold prospectors, lawman, educators, military officers, conservationists and landscape gardeners.  In the 1860s a core founding, practical, educational and aesthetic value of Iowa State was to create a beautiful campus that inspired learning.  Establishing a beautiful campus was the second decision made by Peter Melendy (1823–1901), along with the founding members of the Iowa State Agricultural College (now Iowa State University) in Ames, Iowa.  When hiring the first president, the governing board sought to select a person with unique educational, horticultural and artistic talents. Enter Adonijah Welch (1821–1889).  That core vision of a beautiful campus instilled in the 1860s continued through the next 16 decades.  From the earliest years of Iowa State, the landscape of central campus grew to become ISU’s most iconic and memorable landmark—a portrait– that captures the inner essence of Iowa State.

Adonijah Strong Welch, President, Iowa State College, 1868-1883, 1937 by Othmar Hoffler (American, 1893 - 1954). Oil on linen. Commissioned by Iowa State College. In the Presidential Portrait Collection, Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. U84.35

Location: Iowa State University, Parks Library

The Hughes Years

As with all emerging academic institutions, Iowa State faced struggles–fiscal issues, curriculum development, political tantrums, serving an expanding audience with limited resources, building campus infrastructure, medical pandemics, military engagements, societal unrest and more. From 1858 to the early 20th century Iowa State fought for, advanced, persevered and eventually succeeded in establishing itself as an essential part of Iowa’s education system.  When President Raymond M. Hughes (1873–1958) arrived in 1927, he planned commemorations and celebrations of Iowa State’s accomplishments for its 75th Jubilee Year, 1933.  It was an opportunity to celebrate that Iowa State had met challenges, moved forward and grown into an important and respected higher education institution. The Jubilee commemorations included planting groves of trees in honor of accomplished professors; hosting dinners for renowned alumni; speeches by notable faculty and alumni; and the commissioning of formal fine art portraits of Iowa State’s most distinguished people.

Genevieve Fisher, Dean, College of Home Economics, 1927-1944, 1943 by Frank I. Johnson (Swedish-American, 1879 - 1952). Oil on canvas. Commissioned by Iowa State College. In the Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. U82.126

The catalyst of the portrait tradition at Iowa State lies in a relationship between then president, Raymond Hughes, and Iowa State College professor and alumni Edward N. Wentworth ([BS 1907, MS 1909 Animal Science] 1887–1957). During the celebratory era of the 75th anniversary of the college, despite being in the depths of the Great Depression, Hughes founded and chaired the College Art Committee. The College Art Committee was charged with, among other aesthetic pursuits, the commemoration, validation and celebration of Iowa State’s accomplishments. At the same time as the College Art Committee’s founding, Edward Wentworth was the Vice President of Armour and Company’s Saddle and Sirloin Club and served for 35 years as the director of the Livestock Bureau based in Chicago, Illinois. After the 1893 Chicago’s World Fair, the city became a popular area for emigrating European artists. As the Vice President of the Saddle and Sirloin Club, that regularly commissioned portraits of honorees who helped advance the livestock industry, Wentworth was very familiar with well-known regional and national portrait artists such as Othmar Hoffler (1893–1954) and Henry Rossman (Austrian-American, 1886–1950). Wentworth also chaired the Iowa State College Alumni Association Portrait Committee established in the early 1930’s to create numerous portraits of distinguished faculty, presidents, accomplished division heads and heralded alumni. Wentworth used his network to connect the Alumni Committee with popular Chicago area artists commissioned by the Saddle and Sirloin Club.

Seaman Asahel Knapp, head, Agriculture program, 1879-1883; President, Iowa State College, 1883-1884, 1914 by Sara Shewell Hayden (American, 1862 - 1939). Oil on canvas. Gift of the Class of 1884. In the Presidential Portrait Collection, Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. U88.8

In an effort to recognize historically significant individuals such as the first president of the college, Adonijah Welch, artists would work from historic photographs. The resulting portraits started a longstanding tradition of highlighting important and impactful Iowa State individuals.  Divisions and departments across Iowa State continued to commission portraits of their chairs, deans and noted faculty. The College’s historic divisions of Engineering, Agriculture and Home Economics, as well as departments such as Animal Science, Dairy Industry and Agronomy celebrated their successes through portraiture.  Though their name may have changed over the years, many of these colleges and departments continue this tradition today by actively commissioning portraits with the help of University Museums.

Petersen’s Sculpted Portraits

"A portrait should be the biography of a subject− not just a likeness."

- Letter from Virginia Richardson, former student of Christian Petersen quoting him, 1962

Martin Mortensen, head, Department of Dairy Industry, 1909-1938, 1935 by Christian Petersen (Danish - American, 1885 - 1961). Painted plaster. Gift of Mrs. Marie Beal. In the Christian Petersen Art Collection, Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. U90.27

Before being named Iowa State’s and the nation’s first permanent artist-in-residence at a college, Christian Petersen (Danish-American, 1885–1961) was commissioned by President Hughes to sculpt a commemorative bronze portrait of Dr. Louis Pammel (1862–1931), professor of Botany.  Shortly after this commission, Petersen was hired by Hughes. During Petersen’s resulting 21-year sculpting career at Iowa State, he aptly sculpted portraits of campus presidents, department chairs, faculty, students and alumni.

George Washington Carver, 1999 bronze cast from the 1941 original plaster by Christian Petersen (Danish-American, 1885-1961). Bronze cast, foundry J.A.M. Studios, Inc. The bronze casting was commissioned by the University Museums, and is a gift of John and Linda Dasher. In the Christian Petersen Art Collection, Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. U99.18

Location: Iowa State University, Carver Hall, Courtyard

In 1949, Petersen sculpted one of Iowa State’s most heralded alumni, George Washington Carver, in plaster. Carver (1864–1943) earned a bachelor’s degree from Iowa State in 1894 and a master’s degree in 1896. He briefly served on the faculty before moving to the Tuskeegee Institute. Bronze casts of this sculpture are now located in Curtiss Hall, near Carver Hall, and at the Seed Sciences Building. After the World War II era, the regularity of campus portrait commissions waned.  Petersen continued to sculpt portraits for family, friends and clients, but focused his campus sculpting on large-scale installations such as Conversations (1945–55) at Oak-Elm Residence Hall. Between 1950 and 1980, few portraits, either painted or sculpted, were commissioned by Iowa State with the exception of presidential portraits.

The Modern Portrait Tradition

Perry Holden, Vice dean, Division of Agriculture, 1902-1906; first director of Iowa extension, 1906-1912, 2017 by Liza Amir (American, b. 1982). Oil on canvas. Commissioned by University Museums and the Department of Agronomy. In the Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. U2017.384

In the 1980s, with the responsibility of expanding the Art on Campus Collection, University Museums inherited a large number of portraits that had been commissioned by the early Campus Art Committee in partnership with the Alumni Association and the Office of the President. Beginning in the 1990s, with the guidance of University Museums, Iowa State actively resumed commissioning formal portraits of notable individuals as a means of celebrating, commemorating, and honoring Iowa States cultural legacy. Currently, a steady commissioning of formal fine art portraits of distinguished faculty, deans, donors and alumni is taking place all across campus. The campus portrait collection at Iowa State celebrates the most accomplished of our campus leaders and preserves their legacies through the fine arts.

In an effort to continue and evolve this tradition, artist Rose Frantzen (b. 1965) was commissioned to paint portraits of a selection of impactful Iowa State University alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends live during the course of the 2016 Iowa State Fair, and as an artist-in-residence on campus in April and October of 2017. Frantzen’s portrait series continues the tradition of highlighting the people of Iowa State from all walks of life, and pushes the university’s collection of portraiture into modernity. Each of the portrait participants in Faces of Iowa State were selected by campus partners–deans, vice presidents and directors, and were painted in individual four-hour sessions, resulting in a sense of spontaneity in each portrait.  Frantzen is both an accomplished artist and an insightful psychologist who captures the essence as well as the likeness of each person. Throughout this process, each portrait participant commented on the bonding between the artist and themselves. The Faces of Iowa State reflects the artist’s desire to meet her subject on their terms. The consistent frontal pose in the portraits indicates the openness and intimacy of these encounters between subject and painter.

Portraiture continues to be an elegant and sincere way to honor the accomplished men and women at Iowa State University. The timelessness and approachability of portraits allows the community to connect with and be inspired by these individuals and their stories. Portraits have always been more than simply a record; they show the intelligence, importance, virtue, beauty, emotion and other qualities of the sitter through the eyes of an artist. Faces of Iowa State, according to Rose Frantzen, is “people harmonizing at ISU.” By celebrating those who are important to us, Iowa State University is defining its identity. 

Currently there are over 250 portraits in the ISU Portrait Collection.

Faces of Iowa State Exhibition, 2017-2018

From August 2017 through December 2018, the Faces of Iowa State exhibition was presented at the Brunnier Art Museum, ISU, Ames and toured to the following sites in Iowa: Maquoketa Art Experience; Muscatine Art Center; Pearson Lakes Art Center, Okoboji;  Blander Art Museum, Fort Dodge; and, Harvester Artspace Lofts Exhibit Gallery, Council Bluffs.

ISU President Wendy Wintersteen speaks at the exhibition reception for Faces of Iowa State at the Muscatine Art Center, Muscatine, Iowa.

Faces of Iowa State is organized by University Museums with major support from: College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, College of Business, College of Engineering, College of Human Sciences, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, ISU Extension and Outreach, University Library, Office of the Vice President for Research, and University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.

University Museums is grateful to campus leadership for participating in this project, including Wendy Wintersteen, former Endowed Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Chair of the Dean’s Council during the infancy and realization of this project, and, as of November 20, 2017, President of Iowa State University; Beate Schmittmann, Dean, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Beth McNeil, Dean, University Library; Sarah Rajala, Dean, College of Engineering; Laura Jolly, Dean, College of Human Sciences; Lisa Nolan, former Dean, College of Veterinary Medicine; Kathann Kress, former Vice President, Extension and Outreach; John Lawrence, interim Vice President, Extension and Outreach; and Sara Nusser, Vice President for Research.  It is with great appreciation that University Museums acknowledges the communication specialists from all participating partners who helped promote this project. Laura Miller kindly edited the portrait participants’ biographies.  From the University Museums: Erin O’Malley assisted with project coordination; the publication and gallery guide is by Allison Sheridan; and photography of the portraits is by Charlie Coffey.

The Faces of Iowa State partners are very grateful to all the portrait participants. Many traveled from afar to participate, most were very self-aware of the portrait process and each ultimately embraced their portrait.

Faces of Iowa State 2019-2021

In 2019, and continuing to present, the expanded Faces of Iowa State are semi-permanently installed in the Parks Library, second floor lobby and can be viewed during public hours.  From the original commission of 20 portraits at the Iowa State Fair, though the ISU student portrait commissions during the COVID-19 global pandemic of 2020–21, there are now 46 portraits in the Faces of Iowa State series.  Over the coming decade, it is anticipated University Museums and Iowa State University will continue to add portraits to this collection of the diversity and breadth of the ISU family.  As a land grant university that holds dearly a commitment to serve all, the Faces of Iowa State project demonstrates a democratic ideal of honoring and representing the many faces of the university community.

Faces of Iowa State series installed in Parks Library, Iowa State University.

University Museums continues this project with great appreciation to campus partners and individuals who contribute to the production, support, celebration, engagement and education that encompasses the Faces of Iowa State. The 2020–21 campus partners include the Office of the President, Office of the Provost, and Offices of the Deans.  The University Museums staff that are pivotal participants in this segment of the Faces of Iowa State include: Sydney Marshall, curator, Art on Campus Program; Allison Sheridan, curator and manager of collections, publications and communication; and Lilah Anderson, curator, education.

Lynette L. Pohlman
Director and chief curator, University Museums
Iowa State University

Updated March 2021


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