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I was born in Racine, Wisconsin. My father, Nels, came from Denmark and my mother, Livia, came from Norway. I graduated from William Horlick High School in 1946 and then attended Dana College in Blair, Nebraska. With intervening periods of work and army service in Korea, I got a B.A. in 1954 with a major in Psychology and a minor in art. I anticipated attending a Lutheran seminary, but upon graduation I decided to go to the University of Wisconsin for more art. I took a year of classes to acquire an art major and then another year to be awarded a Master of Science in Applied Art. I then taught Junior high school art in Davenport, Iowa for a year when I was offered a contract to teach at Jamestown College in North Dakota. It was a small school at the time, so the art faculty person taught all of the courses in art as well as two sections of Freshmen English; however, I made it into college teaching so future jobs were easier to get. After two years, I decided to take a break to attend Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN. That summer, before I left for St. Paul, I was persuaded to build a tourist attraction for the City of Jamestown. This became my first commission. We decided that it should be a huge cement buffalo. I had made a plaster sculpture with a steel and plaster bandage armature as a student, so moving to I-beams, rebar, mesh and blown-on cement was not much of a stretch.
The year at the seminary seemed to be spent mostly in practice and travel with a choir which consisted of eight male voices. We toured northern Europe the following summer singing in venues ranging in size from Trondhjem Cathedral to a stavkirke (small wooden church which held approximately forty people.)
I went back to the University of Wisconsin to participate in their newly inaugurated M.F.A. program in the Visual Arts and received the degree in 1961. Up until that time, the only 3-dimensional work that I had done was at the University (except for the buffalo tourist attraction). When I started work on the M.F.A., I showed my major professor, Leo Steppat, a picture of my buffalo which was on the cover of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune Picture Magazine. He wasn't impressed with it as being my creative art contribution but said, "Good taxidermy", and walked off. I thought I saw a hint of a smile.
I then got a one year appointment at Bemidji State college (now, University) to take the place of an art professor who was on sabbatical leave. It was a good experience working with some very creative people - but it was also somewhat hazardous because one of my duties was to drive up to the Canadian border to teach a three hour lecture class one night a week. The next school year (1962-63) I took the place of my first art teacher at Dana College, Bill Thomsen, while he was doing graduate work. One highlight of the year was participating in a two person show with Mary Lawbaugh at the Joslyn Museum in Omaha.
I joined the art department of Texas Lutheran College (now, University) where I did most of my teaching, and entered the most competitive shows. While there I also was a member of the Texas Society of Sculptors. Charles Frank Charles was the head of the art department. We had a two-person show at the Witte Museum in San Antonio in 1965. Charles presented his abstract paintings in the form of four or six sided "boxes" showing them in the center of the large space, while I had my found-object sculptures around the wall. "New York comes to San Antonio."
In 1967 I decided to see what I could do as a self-employed sculptor so I set up a studio space in Lake Geneva, WI. I soon met my wife-to-be, Carole Mortvedt (from Dell Rapids, SD) and we were married the next year. During our visit to New Orleans we unexpectedly met a teacher that I knew from Bemidji State. And shortly afterward I received a letter asking me to be their first "artist-in-residence", of a series. Carole, an artist, and future art teacher and I found the year's experience perfect for our first year of marriage. I worked every day on sculpture made from salvaged auto parts and she took ceramics classes.
Married and expecting children, I found work in the art department of Wittenberg University, Springfield, Ohio. Highlights of the time there were the births of our two children, Christian and Tianna; the excellent faculty, Top Award in the Springfield juried show, exhibiting in Akron and a full-page article about my work in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. I also worked with the faculty of Hamma Theological Seminary exploring possibilities in contemporary worship.
Offered the opportunity to head the art department I returned to Texas Lutheran College where we stayed for six years before moving to the La Crosse, WI area, in 1978, to once again pursue the challenge of being a self-employed sculptor. Since then I have had a number of commissions, was artist-in-residence at Viterbo College, 1991-93, sold limited edition bronzes and contributed to the arts in La Crosse which can be described as follows:
An award winning sculptor and teacher, Petersen has, in the La Crosse, WI area since 1978, been a self-employed sculptor and promoter of "art in public places". He was granted the 1999 Community Arts Development Award by the Wisconsin Assembly of Local Arts Agencies. "In recognition of the leadership, creativity and hard work in enriching the lives of the people of La Crosse through public art."
One of the nomination letters is paraphrased as follows:
Commissions that he has received in our community has brought Elmer Petersen's name to the top of the list. His major works are located throughout the La Crosse area supporting his belief that "the city as a community living space can have the esthetic qualities of the home. We seek to have beautiful and comfortable homes with well designed furniture, flowers and greenery - and art. So, in the city, we might be concerned with the quality of the architecture, the beauty of our natural environment, and the esthetic contribution of public art."
For La Crosse's "City Vision-2000," Elmer originated a unique program of enlisting local artists to submit sculptural ideas. He personally sought local funding and secured locations for their installations; plus, all of these community sculptures were to be fabricated by area businesses. This made connections between artists, fabricators and donors.
This was no easy task. Creative individuals were invited to participate, many of whom had to learn commission protocols and had to be guided in procedural techniques when translating their work to a larger scale. Elmer Petersen was the determined individual who worked hard to bring this vision to reality. There was always this underlying theme "…to create sculptures that would enhance downtown La Crosse and bring more awareness of what local artists and their talents can do for the community." Elmer has been the spirit behind this community directed sculpture project.
Since 1978 I have competed in only one juried exhibit, the 1980 C.M. Russell Auction in Great Falls, Montana, at which I was awarded Best of Show. Previously, while at Texas Lutheran College and Wittenberg University, I entered work in twenty-one competitive shows receiving ten awards from such know figures in the art world as Richard Diebenkorn, William Zorach, John I.H. Baur (Curator of the Whitney), Sam Hunter, Henrietta Wyeth, etc.
Spouse: Carole (Deceased)
Children: Christian, Tianna
William Horlick High School; Racine, Wisconsin
Dana College; Blair, Nebraska, B.A.
University of Wisconsin - Madison, M.S.
University of Wisconsin - Madison, M.F.A
(Leo Steppat, Prof. of Sculpture)
Smart Junior High School; Davenport, Iowa 1956-57
Jamestown College; Jamestown, North Dakota 1957-59
Bemidji State College; Bemidji, Minnesota 1961-62 (1968-69*)
Dana College; Blair, Nebraska 1962-63
Wittenberg University; Springfield, Ohio 1969-72
Texas Lutheran College; Seguin, Texas 1963-67, 1972-78
Art Department Chairman
Rank and Tenure Committee
Resigned to set up studio in La Crosse, Wisconsin area
University of Wisconsin - La Crosse, Outreach 1979
*Artist in Residence: 1968-69 Bemidji State College; Bemidji, Minnesota
Artist in Residence: Viterbo College; La Crosse, Wisconsin 1991-93
1956 42nd Annual Wisconsin Painters and Sculptors,
John I. H. Baur, Whitney Museum, Juror of Awards
1957 43rd Annual Wisconsin Painters and Sculptors,
Arnold Blanch, Juror of Awards
1959 * 45th Annual Wisconsin Painters and Sculptors,
Jurors: Wm. Zorach, Byron Browne, Dr. Grace Morely
1959 3rd North Dakota Annual Exhibition,
Top Sculpture Award*
1959 * Valley city, North Dakota Fine Arts Festival,
Award consisted of work selected and sent to Norway
1960 First National Bank Exhibition, Minneapolis,
Jurors: James Brooks, Lloyd Goodrich, and James Johnson Sweeny
1960 * 2nd Lutheran Brotherhood Student Exhibition,
1961 * 3rd Lutheran Brotherhood Student Exhibition,
1964 * 33rd Annual Texas Painting and Sculpture Exhibition,
Juror: Sam Hunter.
Award consisted of selection for traveling show.
1964 * 34th Annual San Antonio Exhibition, Witte Memorial Museum
Jurors: Loren Melzey, Daniel Teis, and Mitchell Wilder
1964 Annual Citation Show, Texas Fine Arts Association
Jurors: Raymond Entenman, Robert Massey
1964 53rd Texas Fine Arts Association Show, Laguna Gloria Arts Museum; Austin, Texas
Juror: Edward B. Henning, Curator of Contemporary Art, Cleveland Museum of Art
1965 35th Annual San Antonio Artists Exhibition, Witte Memorial Museum
Juror: Henriette Wyeth
1965 Art and Liturgy: 7th Annual Exhibition of the National Conference on Church Architecture;
1966 * Texas Painters and Sculptors, Museum of Fine Arts, Dallas, Texas.
Juror: Richard Diebenkorn
Top Sculpture Award
1967 * San Antonio Artists 37th Annual Exhibition, Witte Memorial Museum.
Juror: Dr. Allen S. Weller
1970 47th Annual Juried Exhibition, Akron Art Institute
Jurors: Joshua Kind, Stephen Prokopoff, and Tom Muir Wilson
1971 * Springfield Art Center, Jury Show
Juror: Dave Kirchmer
Best of Show
1971 4th Annual Blossom-Kent Sculpture Exhibition
Selection Committee: LeRoy Flint, Harold Kitner, Elmer Novotny, Richard Spear, Orrel Thompson, Luke Lietzke.
1973 * San Antonio Art League
1977 The One Seguin Art Center
Painters and Sculptors Exhibition
1980 * C.M. Russell Auction, Great Falls, Montana
Best of Show
2012 Anderson Center, Red Wing, Minnesota
1956 Wisconsin Invitational Craft Exhibition
Wustum Museum, Racine, Wisconsin.
1968 "Hemisfair '68"
San Antonio, Texas
1974 Beaumont Art Museum, Thirty-six Texas Artists
1968 A.I.A Office in Chicago, Gypsum Building
1975 Trinity University; San Antonio, Texas
1977 Nolte National Bank; Seguin, Texas
1978 Frost National Bank; San Antonio, Texas
1978 First Congregational Church; La Crosse, Wisconsin
1978 Extension Gallery; Dubuque, Iowa
1978 La Crosse Public Library; La Crosse, Wisconsin
1978 First National Bank; La Crosse, Wisconsin
1999 Retrospective. The Pump House Regional Art Center; La Crosse, WI.
2007 Retrospective. The Danish Immigrant Museum; Elk Horn, IA.
1963 Joslyn Art Museum; Omaha, Nebraska
1965 Witte Memorial Museum
San Antonio, Texas
1969 The Abbey; Fontana, Wisconsin
1987 The Pumphouse, Western Wisconsin Regional Arts; La Crosse, Wisconsin
Group Shows (Faculty)
1966, '73, '75, '77 Texas Lutheran College; Seguin, Texas
1968 Bemidji State College; Bemidji, Minnesota
1969, '70 Wittenberg University; Springfield, Ohio
1974 Texas Society of Sculptors, Third Dimension Show
First Place Award, Charles Umlauf, judge*
1975, '76, '77, '78 Texas Society of Sculptors, Third Dimension Shows
St. Edward's University, Austin; Galveston's Rosenberg Library; the One Seguin Art Center; Houston Public Library; Texas Medical Center
1978-79 Shows with East Bank Artists.
Cover and Article, Minneapolis Star-Tribune
Sunday Picture Magazine, 1960
SPECIAL FEATURES (cont.)
Ford Times, September 1970
Full-page, Cleveland Plain-Dealer, 1971
The Lutheran, 1971
The Lutheran Standard, 1974
Lutheran Brotherhood Bond, 1974
Art in Public Places in the United States, Fudeburk and Daveport, Popular Press, 1975
The Buffalo Book, the Saga of an American Symbol, 1975. David A. Dary (Jamestown Buffalo)
Ripley's Believe It or Not
La Crosse Tribune, Full-page feature article with pictures, 1978, '81
Coulee Gazette, La Crosse, Wisconsin, feature article with pictures, 1978
The Last Buffalo Motel, 1979. Gordon Webber (Book inspired by the Jamestown Buffalo.)
La Crosse Tribune, full-page photo of artist with work, 1979, 1983.
"WSA," a publication of the Wisconsin Society of Architects, A.I.A. (Cover), October, 1981
Modern Maturity, December 1981
The Colossus of Roads, 1984. Karal Ann Marling (Jamestown Buffalo)
St. Paul Pioneer Press and Dispatch, articles and pictures, 1986.
National Geographic; November 1994. Two page photo of buffalo, which I made in 1959.
Articles in Connection with shows
Dana College; Blair, Nebraska.
Lutheran Brotherhood Insurance.
Bemidji State College; Bemidji, Minnesota.
Aid Association for Lutherans (Insurance Company); Appleton, Wisconsin.
Private collections, including John Cowles, publisher; Charles M. Schulz, creator of "Peanuts"; and C.D. Gelatt, industrialist.
President Jimmy Carter (Drawing)
S.C. Johnson's Wax; Racine, Wisconsin
Northern Engraving Corp.; Sparta, Wisconsin.
Viterbo College; La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Gundersen Lutheran Hospital; La Crosse, Wisconsin.
State of Wisconsin, Madison.
Viterbo University, La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Public Library; La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Edgewood College; Madison, Wisconsin.
Washburn Observatory; University of Wisconsin - Madison
The City of Epinal, France.
Worlds Largest Buffalo Tourist Attraction
City of Jamestown, North Dakota, 1959
Good Shepherd and chancel furniture. (Moved to St. John's; Dickenson, N.D., 1982)
St. Luke's Episcopal Church, Bowman, North Dakota, 1962.
Zion Lutheran Church; Belvidere, Illinois, 1968.
Family, bronze fountain.
Christian Action Ministry; Chicago, Illinois, 1968.
St. Michael's Lutheran Church; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1972.
Bicentennial Monument, Memorial Building, Bronze and stainless steel sculpture relief.
(17 feet by 27 feet)
Jamestown, North Dakota, 1973-74.
Martin Luther, 1976. 13 feet welded "Cor-Ten" steel sculpture.
Texas Lutheran College, Seguin, Texas
Bronze Plaques (6), 1978. For the chancel wall of Our Savior's Lutheran Church;
Gambrinus, King of Beer 1980. Welded "Cor-Ten" steel, 8 feet high.
G. Heileman Brewing Company Corporate Center; La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Lacrosse Players, 1981. Welded "Cor-Ten" steel. Life-size Indian figures located in "Harborview Plaza";
La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Family, 1982. Cast bronze, four figures, 8 feet high plus base.
Gundersen Clinic; La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Good Shepherd, 1983. Black iron relief, 18 feet high.
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Symbol, 1983. "Master and Disciple"
Lutheran Church of the Master, Edina, Minnesota.
Dr. Anne, 1984. Cast bronze woman and boy.
Anne Carlson School, Jamestown, North Dakota.
Ted Mannstedt, 1986. (Portrait) Welded steel.
Eagle Sculpture Landmark, 1987. Welded "Cor-Ten" and stainless steel. Total height, 38 feet.
Riverside Park, La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Small Boy, 1987. Welded steel and brazed-bronze.
Lutheran Hospital, La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Eagle Sculpture II and Eternal Flame, 1996. Veterans' Memorial Stadium, University of Wisconsin - La Crosse.
(Former) Governor, C.C. Washburn, 1996. Bronze bust.
D.B. Reinhart, 1998. Bronze bust. Viterbo University, La Crosse, Wisconsin.
The Visionary, 1999. Welded Cor-Ten steel, 9 feet tall. Galesville, Wisconsin.
Gideon Hixon, 2001. 6 ½ feet Bronze figure for the City of La Crosse, Wisconsin.
John and Nettie Mooney, 2006. Bronze busts. Gundersen Clinic, La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Board of Directors, Media Guild, Inc. Springfield, Ohio.
Doug Wyles, Founder and Coordinator, 1970-71.
Playground sculpture for Union Settlement House, Springfield, Ohio.
(National Institute for Contemporary Ecclesiastical Art), 1971
Board of Directors, the One Seguin Art Center; Seguin, Texas, 1975-77.
Director-at-Large and Executive Secretary of the Texas Society of Sculptors, 1975.
Forty Banners for the Great River Traditional Music and Crafts Festival;
La Crosse, Wisconsin, 1979.
Director-at-Large, Eastbank Artists, La Crosse, Wisconsin, 1979.
Playground sculpture for Pertzsch Elementary School, Onalaska, Wisconsin, 1981.
"Speak-up Award" presented by the La Crosse, Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce, 1983.
"Distinguished Alumnus Award" presented by Dana College, Blair, Nebraska, 1984.
Chairman and originator of the City Vision 2000 Sculpture Project…Designed to create partnerships between artists and fabricators in the Greater La Crosse Area. (1993 -) Three sculptures completed as of 1998.
"Graduate of Distinction" award presented by William Horlick High School; Racine, Wisconsin.
"Honored Community Artist" award presented by the Wisconsin Assembly of Local Arts Agencies, 1999.
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