Art can provide an escape. It can make people think or laugh. It may spark conversations. These are some of the goals of artwork that will be displayed throughout our new children’s hospital. Some pieces are whimsical, and many have been selected to invite discovery. Families and visitors may look at a picture and ask each other, “What do you see?” or “What do you think is going on?” The artwork may even lead to storytelling.

The artwork found at UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital was selected with patients, families, and visitors in mind. More than 300 pieces will be installed; a small portion will be transferred from existing pediatric areas. Funding for the artwork comes from the Art in State Buildings program, which was made possible by passage of a 1979 state law, known as a percent-for-art law. It requires that a minimum of one-half of 1 percent (.005 percent) of the state’s portion of total construction costs be allocated to artwork. Private donors also helped provide support for some pieces. The artwork in UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital represents the work of more than 60 artists, half of whom are from the Midwest.

In a hospital, art is more than just a pretty picture. It can help the healing process. According to Global Alliance for Arts & Health, “By reducing stress, loneliness, and the perception of pain, the arts improve the patient experience.”

Throughout the Hospital

Iowa Scenes

Early in the design process, focus groups told us that artwork in the hospital should establish a sense of place—show that our hospital is located in Iowa—as well as invite exploration. From these suggestions, four large Iowa scenes were developed that highlight natural habitats across the state. Displayed on every floor, the Iowa scenes highlight the state’s farmlands, prairies, woodlands, rivers, and skies. Patients, visitors, and employees will enjoy picking out details from each scene.

The scenes serve another purpose, too. They were the inspiration for icons that are used throughout the hospital. A different icon was chosen to represent each of the building’s 14 levels. Displayed on walls, signs, and elevator buttons, the icons will help visitors find their way throughout the building.

Individual Pieces of Art

Artwork will be installed in hallways, waiting rooms, respite rooms, family lounges, and clinical areas, including preoperative and postoperative rooms. Pieces will feature different styles and media, such as intricate paper cuttings, sculptures, and woodcut relief prints. Many will have a unique texture to provide a contrast to sleek cabinets and furniture. Some of the more whimsical pieces were created by Brett Kern. His ceramic objects look like inflatable toys, complete with folds and wrinkles. Looking at these pieces, observers find it hard to believe that they were formed from clay.

Gerdin Family Lobby (Level 1)

The main lobby is a welcoming space that invites discovery. Artist Larry Kirkland designed four different types of artwork that can be found throughout the lobby. His goal? To help people forget, even for a second, why they are at the hospital.

The Blooming Wall

The Blooming Wall is displayed on the curved walls in the lobby; some parts of the wall extend two stories high. Triangular-shaped panels give the effect of colorful vertical blinds. Panels are white and varying shades of blue, green, and purple. The shades increase gradually in intensity, or “bloom,” before fading to white. Then the cycle repeats itself. The effect is different when seen up close than it is when viewed from far away. The Blooming Wall also varies in appearance depending on the amount of sunlight streaming through the lobby windows.

Terrazzo Floors

Four different areas in the lobby’s terrazzo floor offer an “I Spy” experience for kids and adults alike. Outlines of common objects—such as animals, a football, and household tools—are embedded in four different sections of the floor. Only one item can be found in all four spots: a four-leaf clover.

Wind Vanes

It’s hard to miss them. Six towering sculptures, known as wind vanes, look like large stacks of alphabet blocks. Each of the pieces represents two Iowa communities. Colorful graphics reflect aspects of each place, such as an event, industry, or natural area located there. Each wind vane features a decorative piece at the top that rotates like the real wind vanes that inspired them. Four wind vanes are located near the children’s theater; two others are near the library.


Playful artwork inside six vitrines, or glass-covered window displays, will be enjoyed by all who visit the Gerdin Family Lobby. Each display is approximately 7 feet tall and showcases a different theme. One includes alphabet blocks, as well as toys and small figurines that start with each letter of the alphabet.

Level 12

Meditation Room

Designed as a calming oasis, this room features a large piece of art known as “Lift Your Spirits.” Measuring 8 feet wide and more than 8 feet tall, this painted glass art piece depicts birch trees reaching for the sky. This original piece of art, designed by artist Bebe Keith, weighs more than 400 pounds. It was hand painted onto glass, one color at a time, in a studio in Germany. The uplifting work of art is also visible from the hallway on Level 12.


Bebe Keith also created 22 mosaics displayed in the hallway on the top level of the hospital. Known collectively as “Kaleidoscopes,” the intricate design of the hexagon mosaics mimics what children see when viewing patterns through a kaleidoscope. The largest mosaic is 5 feet wide and took 60 hours to complete. It includes an estimated 5,700 pieces of cut stained glass.

John and Mary Pappajohn Plaza

This outdoor green space features two large horse sculptures by Deborah Butterfield. The artist creates her trademark sculptures by wiring together pieces of found objects, such as driftwood. Then each piece is numbered, photographed, taken apart, and cast in bronze. The bronze pieces are reassembled to form unique horses that are larger than life. One of the two horses displayed outside our children’s hospital is more than 13 feet tall. The horses are named Indelible and Midday, but nicknamed Drift and Bones by our patients.