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Free Flow

Free Flow, a sculpture by Shirley Wyrick, illustrates the research and educational activities at IIHR.

Free Flow, a sculpture by Shirley Wyrick, illustrates the research and educational activities at IIHR.

In 2007, artist Shirley Wyrick created a cast bronze and falling water sculpture for the lobby of the C. Maxwell Stanley Hydraulics Laboratory (home to IIHR), titled Free Flow. The multi-layered work represents a complex waterfall with detailed images cast on three bronze reliefs that illustrate the wide range and breadth of IIHR’s hydroscience research, practical application, and education. The real waterfall is textured by a slight amount of turbulence, and offers an opportunity for contemplation and meditation.

The three bronze reliefs form an S-shaped ogee curve, the shape commonly used in water spillways to induce the best hydraulic flows. The details on the bronze reliefs symbolize the vast reach and breadth of the work at IIHR since its beginnings in the early 20th century. At the top of each curve are images that represent the major ongoing challenges; in the middle Wyrick illustrates IIHR’s activities in research, education, and application; and at the bottom, we see images fundamental to the development of hydroscience and IIHR. The juxtaposition of symbols, the reliefs function more as poetry than narrative, working together to create the art and its meaning.

Wyrick, a native of Iowa City, has written that the river speaks to each of us by letting us hear ourselves, and by allowing us to reflect and to listen. “Listening to the river is difficult to do,” Wyrich says. “My hope is that Free Flow will help you not only to ‘hear’ the river’s many messages, but that it will also help you hear yourself.”

Scroll down to see a key to the symbols and images Wyrick uses in the bronze reliefs (click on the image to expand.

Bronze Relief #1:

  1. Vortices: Swirling fluid motion that challenges hydraulic researchers.
  2. Leonardo da Vinci’s 15th-century experiment on blending-fluids hydraulics—historic research later repeated by IIHR faculty.
  3. Footsteps of the many hundreds of students (as well as faculty members and researchers) passing through IIHR in the 20th century, receiving graduate degrees that carried them to professional careers around the world.
  4. The Navier-Stokes equation, a fundamental equation of fluid motion.
  5. Sediment transport and dune formation by flowing water or wind, complex and still unexplained processes that continue to challenge researchers.
  6. Wind tunnels, computers, and LiDAR—a few of the facilities and instruments used innovatively at IIHR.
  7. Weather-related research, combining field experimentation and numerical models to define raindrops and better analyze and predict nature’s patterns.
  8. The hydrologic cycle, fundamental to life and integral to hydrometeorology and hydroscience research.

Bronze Relief #2:

  1. Turbulence: Erratic fluid flows that defy scientific description.
  2. Scouring around bridge piers, a longstanding subject of IIHR research.
  3. River systems, studied and modeled by IIHR researchers since the laboratory’s first years. Note the adjacent Upper Mississippi River channel, site of much IIHR research, crossed by multiple locks and dams.
  4. Secondary flow of water currents around a bend, creating erosion problems solved by Iowa vanes—IIHR’s river control structures, now used around the world.
  5. Ice jams representing cold regions research, an IIHR focus since the 1970s.
  6. Fisheries-related research initiated in the 1930s and continued today by combining field and lab studies with numerical models–research that has demanded the integration of many academic disciplines.
  7. Students receiving both classroom and research experience, a hallmark of an IIHR education.
  8. The globe, symbol of the international students, faculty, and investigations that have defined IIHR’s preeiminence.
  9. Scaling of research, with local studies leading to the understanding of the Earth’s large-scale processes.

Bronze Relief #3:

  1. Path lines of cavitation: the formation of air bubbles in liquid flowing swiftly past a solid body, a process indicative of the complexity of fluid flows.
  2. Flow net, a classical graphical representation of fluid movement used in teaching and research.
  3. A moving propeller generating vertical flows, representing IIHR’s involvement in ship hydrodynamics since World War II.
  4. Biomedical research on airflow in human lungs, translating hydrodynamic processes to living systems.
  5. Model of a ship hull being installed in IIHR’s towing tank.
  6. Ship hydrodynamics research integrating laboratory experimentation, coomputer modeling, and uncertainty analysis.
  7. Meander flume, historic facility for sediment transport studies.
  8. Early plumbing studies, water weighing tank, and computer-based studies, emblems of IIHR’s rich and diverse past.
  9. IIHR’s home, the C. Maxwell Stanley Hydraulics Laboratory after the 2002 renovation and (below) as first constructed in 1920 near the Burlington Street dam.
  10. Millstone that ground settlers’ grain, found north of Iowa City and in 1932 incorporated into IIHR’s central entrance hallway.

The Artist’s Message

About the Artist


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Last modified on June 29th, 2015
Posted on May 9th, 2011

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