As you walk into the Gerdin Family Lobby of our new children’s hospital, it’s hard to miss the towering art pieces on display. Resembling stacks of alphabet blocks, the colorful sculptures create a whimsical feel in the large space.

Look more closely, and you’ll see that the pieces, known as wind vanes, celebrate the heritage of various Iowa towns and communities. Every aspect of the wind vanes is eye-catching, but it’s the tops you’re likely to notice first.

At the top of each wind vane, a decorative element turns. Each wind vane sports a different element that pays tribute to the state’s farming roots. One features a rooster poised to crow as the sun comes up over the horizon. Another shows a person digging in the dirt, while a meadowlark sings nearby.

Artist Larry Kirkland of Washington, D.C., came up with the idea for the wind vanes and designed them from top to bottom. Larry creates large-scale works of art for airports, hospitals, office buildings, and other facilities nationwide. All six of the prominently displayed wind vanes were made possible by the generous support of Volunteer Services at University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics.

From the beginning of his work on the wind vanes, Larry wanted to create something big. It was important, he says, to conceive of something larger than a person but smaller than the lobby’s soaring ceiling. The lobby, with its large windows and curved walls, is a sophisticated space. Within that, he wanted to find a way to declare that “this is a space for children,” he says.

Like any artist, Larry also had to understand his audience. Public areas in children’s hospitals are environments for a patient’s “circle of support,” he explains. Patients may not spend much time in these spaces, but family members do. For example, siblings often pass long hours at a hospital when a brother or sister is ill. Creating a space that helps families feel engaged became part of his mission.

The solid part of each wind vane consists of several Corian® cubes stacked atop each other. Corian is a durable, smooth surface often used for countertops.

Each of the six wind vanes features the names of two Iowa communities, displayed vertically. Larry then divided much of the space on the smooth part of the pieces into small squares. Many squares contain colorful graphics that capture unique aspects of the represented communities.

Some highlight a town’s history, while others reflect the presence of nearby natural areas or industries. For example, one square on the section devoted to Le Mars depicts an ice cream cone. The western Iowa town is known as the “ice cream capital of the world.” Pictures of animals help represent Des Moines since it is home to Blank Park Zoo.

Other squares contain bold geometric patterns that catch the eye and help lend a quilt-like look to the pieces. Geography buffs will want to look for several small map silhouettes of Iowa. There is one for every town featured; each town’s location is pinpointed on the silhouettes.

Four wind vanes will be located on the north side of the Gerdin Family Lobby. Not far from the children’s theater, they will be visible as soon as you come through the main entrance. Two others will be located on the south side near the Janice and Bruce Ellig Library.

Adults and children alike will have fun exploring them, picking out pictures, and looking at the map outlines. The 12 featured communities are:


Boone is home to one of the longest, highest, double-track railroad bridges in the world. The town has a vibrant musical and performance scene. In addition, an annual festival includes a pet and quilt show.


Representing south-central Iowa, Corydon was home to Olympian George Saling. He won the gold medal at the 1932 games in Los Angeles in the 110-meter hurdles. The town includes a 58-acre lake.

Des Moines

Des Moines is best known as the state capital and Iowa’s largest city. Visitors and locals are drawn to the city’s Blank Park Zoo and many cultural events. The city also plays host to the state fair and sporting events, including high school tournaments.


Located where the Des Moines River and Mississippi River meet, Keokuk is the state’s southernmost city. It was named after a Sauk Indian chief. The state’s highest temperature was recorded there. On July 20, 1935, the thermometer reached 118 degrees.

Le Mars

Located in northwest Iowa, Le Mars is home to the world’s largest ice cream manufacturing plant under one roof. The name Blue Bunny was chosen in 1935 through a contest; the winner received $25.


Maquoketa is famous for the nearby Maquoketa Caves State Park. The park has more caves than any state park in Iowa and is a popular recreational spot. Our new hospital will be named University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital in November 2016, in honor of the generous support of Jerre and Mary Jo Stead, natives of Maquoketa.

Mason City

Mason City was the home of Meredith Willson, who wrote “The Music Man.” The Broadway musical is considered an American classic. The town is also known for its Prairie School architecture. Frank Lloyd Wright designed Mason City’s Historic Park Inn hotel.

New Albin

New Albin is the northernmost city in Iowa. A 12-sided barn, the Reburn Barn, is located there. Built in 1914, it has a feed trough around a central silo for feeding up to 50 cattle at once.

Red Oak

Named for trees located along the nearby Red Oak Creek, Red Oak represents southwestern Iowa. It has a proud military history and had a victory ship, SS Red Oak Victory, named in honor of it.


Sabula is the only town of its kind in Iowa. Why? It’s situated on an island. Located on the Mississippi River, it is also the easternmost town in the state.

Story City

Story City, in the geographic center of the state, calls itself “The Heart of Iowa.” Its antique carousel entertains residents and visitors during the summer.


Westfield, the westernmost city in Iowa, is located on a bend in the Big Sioux River. Westfield was the hometown of fictional character Jack Smurch, the main character in James Thurber’s The Greatest Man in the World about a pilot who flies around the world.