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Critical Juncture/




Sculpture Dimensions:

8.5' h. x 9.10" w.

Media: Silicon Brass (Bronze)

State of Iowa Historical Building

Des Moines, Iowa

Art-in-State Buildings Project

Critical Juncture / Fluid Boundary has encountered many twists and turns from the time Wyrick was first asked, in 1986, to be one of two artists to participate in Art in State Buildings (AISB) projects for the then new State of Iowa Historical Building in Des Moines. Little did she realize that her involvement with that work would extend into at least the year 2023!


She based her project on the architect’s detailed design of his projected water flow over a 38’ wide waterfall. At the University of Iowa’s Hydraulics Laboratory in Iowa City Wyrick plotted the points of the water’s interaction with her scale models in the lab’s flumes where the water flow was exactly controlled. Then she began making the large pattern for a bronze sculpture, testing it on site and casting and finishing it in bronze at MaxCast, a Kalona Iowa foundry. All of this was done in preparation for the water feature to be activated . . .


The next years she spent with the sculpture and its site seem to have grown into a book, so she chose to fashion this book about Critical Juncture / Fluid Boundary into the following four “Chapters.” 

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Art in State Buildings’ selection...

A3 CJ FB Historical Bldg brochure inside1987 .jpg
A2 CJ FB Historical Bldg brochure Outside 1987 .jpg
A4 CJFB Art in Iowa  Gazette 5-26-1987.jpg

then announced in press...

A5 CJ FB Gazette Bronze chosen 10-4-1987.jpg
A6 CJ FB Iowa Arts News Summer 1988 .jpg
A7 CJ FB Gazette article 8-3-1988.jpg

Wyrick was selected, as an Iowa based artist, to do an Art in State Buildings’ artwork for the new State of Iowa Historical Building in 1986. The building is located on the Eastside of Des Moines just a few blocks west of Iowa’s State Capitol. She was focused on fully integrating her sculpture into the new Historical Building's unique architecture and mission.


She then met with members of the Iowa Arts Council, the building’s architects and Cork Marcheschi, who had been commissioned to do another major artwork for the Historical Building. Marcheschi was an internationally renowned artist known for his architecturally-scaled light sculptures.


After considering the possible sites, Wyrick felt that  the best placement for her artwork would be outside in the plaza on the southwest corner of the building whose centerpiece was planned to be a 38-foot wide waterfall. She wanted to create a bronze sculpture attached to the side of the waterfall so that water could flow over her sculpture during spring-summer-fall months and interact with it.

Critical Juncture/

Fluid Boundary’s Concept...

The State of Iowa is intimately associated with rivers.  Its rivers are, in fact, its lifeblood.  Her sculptural relief’s design refers to a specific place––the junction of the Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers at Pike’s Peak in Northeast Iowa. That place has special significance in Iowa’s history.  That is where Marquette and Joliet, on June 17, 1673, became the first recorded Europeans to view the land that later became our State of Iowa.


Although there was no real meeting recorded there, the Europeans’ arrival marked the initial interface between our Native American and European cultures in what became the State of Iowa. It was a “critical juncture” for both cultures.


The broader meaning of the work asks one to consider the many different types and numbers of critical junctures every person has had in one’s own life: critical junctures where a choice has to be made between opposing or contradictory viewpoints or courses of action.


Wyrick’s and Marcheschi's proposals were unanimously approved by the Arts committee and the new Historical Building architects.

Experimenting with

the projected waterflow...

The new building’s architectural engineer had designed the waterfall and Wyrick was given detailed design information about the rate of water flow and the waterfall’s projected shape.


This enabled her to ask IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering, an internationally recognized institution in hydroscience at the University of Iowa, if she might experiment with design of the bronze relief using those figures in one of the IIHR flumes (glass-sided channels for water flow that could be adjusted to the building engineer’s specifications.) The IIHR engineers were very interested in her project and happy to work with her to adjust the water-flow as needed for her purpose.

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B1  CJFB 3D drwg in plexi.jpg

Building the pattern for Critical Juncture/Fluid Boundary...


Trusting that the architectural engineer’s figures were correct, the artist started building the pattern for Critical Juncture / Fluid Boundary's casting in silicon brass with the exacting figures she had gained from the flume experiments. The full-sized pattern was built with a base of plywood with layered, laminated and shaped Styrofoam that could be covered with plastilene (an oil clay) in which she could carve relief patterns.

C2 CJFB foam pattern 2.jpg
C1 CJFB  foam pattern.jpg

In early 1988, Iver Iverson of Expanding Contracting and his crew trucked the bulky, weighty Styrofoam/wood/plastilene-covered  to Des Moines to check on its placement on the wall of the waterfall and its expected ability to interact with the projected waterfall. It was then returned to Wyrick’s studio for detailed carving.

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C4 CJFB Check Plastilene Model on site.jpg
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Additional features planned for water flow over the bronze relief...

To add to the interest of the artwork’s bronze, Wyrick designed the sculpture so that the 38 foot wide waterfall would flow over the artwork and could be directed so that...

1) water would hit the spear shaft itself, creating a smaller waterfall along its edge and the spear would also channel much of the excess water down the spear shaft and through a hole in back of the spear’s head

2) the adjacent piece of the sculpture, containing the pieces of the broken arrow that allude to the state’s boundary, was designed so a “braided” line of water was to be formed between the two bronze pieces. To accomplish these effects, she was using technical help from the building’s architectural engineer and from the University of Iowa’s IIHR Hydroscience and Engineering department.

D CJFB crucial part of sculpt unrealized channeling-braiding.jpg

Casting and Installing the 8'5"h. x 9‘10”w. sculpture in silicon brass...


1988 was a year full of surprises for the sculptor! The pattern of the sculpture was completed early in the year and in July the first parts of the pattern were delivered to MaxCast, an artist-run foundry in Kalona, Iowa. Wyrick had to purchase an additional 2,000 pounds of silicon brass ingots because of an unexpected metal shortage at the foundry that significantly increased the cost of the project.


Wyrick worked alongside the foundry on the project by doing finish grinding and polishing of the piece while Steve Maxon, the owner of MaxCast, did necessary welding.


The bronze sculpture was well underway. But on her next trip to Des Moines for the project committee’s meeting, the architectural engineer invited Wyrick to view the startup of the waterfall. Both of them walked to the site and he disappeared into a spot near and under the waterfall to activate the cistern that was to feed water to the waterfall’s upper pool. After the pool was filled, it started to spill over the weir (the top piece of the waterfall that extended about 2 inches from the face of the waterfall.)

E1 CJFB failed waterfall.jpg
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But the water did not fall away from the weir—it only hugged the face of the waterfall’s wall!


After several tries by the engineer, Wyrick reported to the committee meeting that the waterfall had failed. Even though the architect reassured the group that it could probably be fixed--it couldn’t be!


Wyrick contacted her friends at the IIHR and they offered to make a trip to Des Moines to see what they might be able to do. They came and decided to install a deflector under the edge of the weir to direct the water away from the wall, which it did. But nothing could be done about increasing the water flow. The cistern for the waterfall was buried deep under the building architecture with no possibility for improvement.


The decision was made to install the sculpture and see whether the water problem could be solved in the future. Wyrick consulted Glenn Shoemaker, an Iowa City structural engineer she had worked with in installing The River to help solve the unexpected problem. A large gap between the waterfall’s stone facing and the concrete where the sculpture was to be attached was discovered and required special structural considerations.

Installation of CJ-FB in NovEMBER 1989...

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F2 CJ FB Install bronze 11-21-1989 P-C.jpg
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Once the water was turned on, the disappointing water flow was evident:

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Because this was an AISB (Art In State Buildings) project, it was not possible to increase her $30,000 budget and Wyrick was unable to receive additional funding from the State of Iowa or the architectural firm that had failed in its design of the waterfall.


This project tried Wyrick's patience many times during its development and even during its continuing life, but she nonetheless believes in its worth as an important artwork that speaks for and to the Iowa public.   

A celebration on May 20, 1990:

Art, Jazz & Iowa History...

“Tributaries to an Artwork“

Wyrick's May 1990 talk at Dedication...

A celebration of both Marcheschi's and Wyrick’s works was held in May 1990. Cork Marcheschi’s artwork, a light sculpture, Is named Plains Aurora and can be seen standing several levels above Critical Juncture / Fluid Boundary. Wyrick spoke at the May 20, 1990, Art, Jazz & Iowa History event, and her talk began with a personal recollection about her ties to the former Iowa Historical Museum's library. She hoped the depth of her childhood experience there would help the attendees understand it was one of the tributaries to her creation of Critical Juncture / Fluid Boundary. Her mother took her and  her sister on nearly weekly visits to the former State of Iowa Library because there were no libraries nearby in their hometown of Altoona.

Other tributaries to Critical Juncture / Fluid Boundary included the close association of the State of Iowa with rivers. She said its rivers are, in fact, Iowa’s lifeblood. In the case of this sculptural relief, the shape and the pattern refer to a specific place––the junction of the Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers at Pike’s Peak in Northeast Iowa.

There, Marquette and Joliet, on June 17, 1673, almost 317 years ago, became the first recorded Europeans to view the land that later became our State of Iowa. Although there was no real meeting there, Wyrick saw that it was symbolically the initial interface between our Native American culture and the European culture. It was a “critical juncture” for both cultures.

She asked her audience to consider the many different types and numbers of critical junctures each had had in their own lives. . . . .critical junctures where they had to make decisions between opposing or contradictory viewpoints or courses of action.

(At this point Wyrick thought that the artwork was going to assume its summer identity as the waterfall was turned on and water coursed over it, but that did not happen. She also hoped the patterns of waterflow she had tried to design into the work would be fascinating and mesmerizing.) She asked the audience to consider what a flexible boundary might mean in their own lives and that of our Society (its metaphoric meaning).

Most of all she wanted viewers to experience the artwork and think more deeply about it, because their impressions and interpretations and those of others become part of its meaning or another tributary to its meaning.

Wyrick published the following statement early into the project: “Other  people's  impressions become part of any artwork's meaning. The meaning of any artwork is one that, over time, can shift its boundaries.” (She believes you will agree that this work has had several shifting boundaries!)

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H6 CJ-FB #2 1987-89 with weir - short-lived water flow c753.jpg
H2 CJ FB artist plus waterfall w deflector C 754.jpg

The fascinating story of Critical Juncture / Fluid Boundary's  evolution continues in Chapters 2, 3, and 4 in RELATED PIECES below.

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