Child’s Play

City High art teacher, Dan Peterson, is inspired to create by his young son’s interactions with the world.


Olivia Lusala

Art by Dan Peterson

Zoë Butler and Olivia Lusala

What may look like nothing more than a simple children’s board game to some can be inspiration for others. The bright colors and pictures of candy and lights can be expanded to explore the depths of the human mind.

Dan Peterson, City High art teacher and father, takes inspiration from the wonder and curiosity in human nature.

I am personally very interested in things like the idea of wonder that keep us curious and how that changes between being a child and being an adult,” Peterson said.

Peterson sees this growth of curiosity in his own family.

“A lot of that stems from being a dad and watching my son’s brain and curiosity develop.” Peterson said.

Peterson’s creative process revolves around concentrated bursts of creativity, rather than continual production.

“I have periods of working very intensely, and periods that I’m doing the things that allow me to work intensely at the other times,” he said.

Peterson believes an artist needs balance to provide stability in home life, including in hobbies such as gardening and writing that allow one to create output. With this balance Peterson has created in his life, he has been able to construct a collection of pieces that are now showcased at the University of Iowa hospitals. Sayuri Sasaki-Heman, a creative director at the U of I hospitals, was able to contact Peterson through a connection at the Iowa City Press Co-op, a community print shop that allows artists studio time for a monthly fee.

One of Peterson’s pieces on display, “New Games,” incorporates his themes of wonder and curiosity.

“I remember thinking that all [my son’s] games were super boring and I was tired of playing Candy Land, but that it had a great classic game aesthetic. He was also asking about how things were created and who came before us,” Peterson said. “[These were] his first inquiries about history, the universe, and the environment.”

The “game” in the piece starts with the birth of the universe, then the growth of life and human civilization, ending with enlightenment waiting if one makes it to the end of the game.

“It’s just supposed to be some kind of symbolic journey through our existence, not for educational purposes or to create a complete understanding of something,” Peterson said. “Just me processing things that [my son] was doing and asking about, as well as a glimpse of our own current context, through a playful and familiar image.”

Peterson’s artwork will be on display until January 3rd near the Medical Museum at the University of Iowa hospital.