Christian Petersen (Danish-American, 1885-1961)
Attleboro War Chest, 1918
Probably painted plaster
When the United States entered World War I in 1917, many Americans were eager to support the war effort. Drives to encourage citizens to buy war bonds, sometimes called “Liberty Loans,” took place, and communities throughout the country sponsored their own campaigns, such as this one in Attleboro, Massachusetts. The town set up a large painting of Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany and, as each fund-raising goal was met, citizens got to “torture” the picture of the Kaiser, as the local newspaper described. “The $10,000 mark is to be denoted by a broken arm, an extra $500 by a blackened eye and later progress by broken jaws and legs and head. Injuries that no mere first aid class could master are planned and by the end of the week the painting is expected to be mutilated so efficiently as to make even a Belgian satisfied.” The mention of a Belgian refers to reports of German crimes against non-combatants in Belgium.
Christian Petersen had lived in Attleboro since 1907, working as a die-cutter in the local jewelry and metal design industry. Despite his great success in this commercial work, he wanted to be a sculptor and had begun trying to establish himself as a fine artist. As his contribution to the Attleboro War Chest, he designed this plaque as a reward to those businesses and schools which reached their fund-raising goals. It depicts a wounded soldier leaning up against a standing doughboy who signals for help against the ruined landscape of No Man’s Land. Help arrives in the form of an American eagle which swoops in from overhead. The inscription, “Let Your Eagles Bring Relief Thru Attleboro’s War Chest,” makes it clear that Americans back home can aid their soldiers by donating their own “eagles” -- the ones pictured on their money.