Christian Petersen (Danish-American, 1885-1961)
Old Woman in Prayer (The Refugee), c.1940
Purchased with funds from the Iowa State University Library for the Iowa Art in State Buildings Program. In the Christian Petersen Art Collection, Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University. UM86.521
Though this sculpture appears at first to be a religious one, religion is only a small part of the story. Old Woman in Prayer (The Refugee) is Petersen’s response to World War II, especially the plight of civilians. According to interviews conducted by his first biographer with Petersen’s wife, Charlotte, this sculpture expresses the terror of ordinary—and defenseless—people who find themselves in the midst of conflict. She recalled, “Christian was deeply moved by the barbarism of the pogroms and the bombings. We were stunned by the tragic suffering of innocent civilians during World War II -- he brooded about it.” Petersen’s sculpture War (After the Blitz War) was also on this theme of civilian victims of war, especially women and children.
World War II began in Europe when the forces of Hitler’s Nazi Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939 and subsequently attacked other countries until the Nazis occupied much of Europe and some areas beyond. Petersen’s parents had emigrated from Denmark in 1894 largely because they did not want to live under German dominance, and the family had maintained ties to their home land. When Denmark was among the first countries occupied by the Nazis in April of 1940, Petersen must have felt especially affected.
Visit the Parks Library lobby to view this sculpture