Silver Code

The Conservation of the Art Curtain in C.Y. Stephens Auditorium at Iowa State University

curtain 1

When the newly constructed C.Y. Stephens Auditorium opened in September 1969 with an unprecedented five-night concert series by the New York Philharmonic, the moment heralded a new era in the fine arts for Iowa State University, the state of Iowa, and indeed the Midwest. Iowans came out in black tie and taffeta to mark the auspicious opening of the majestic auditorium, which in 2004 earned the honor “Building of the Century” from the Iowa Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

Weaving of Silver Code at the Kawashima Textile Mills, Kyoto, Japan

C.Y. Stephens Auditorium had been conceived as the crown jewel of the Iowa State Center and a vital focal point for the arts at Iowa State, so it was fitting that the stage curtain be as reflective of this Midwestern cultural renaissance as the building itself. Iowa natives and Iowa State alumni J.W. (Bill) and Dorothy Fisher, lead donors for the construction of Fisher Theater, commissioned the Kawashima Textile Mills in Kyoto, Japan, to weave the 80-by-35-foot curtain on what was then the largest loom in the world.

Designed by artist and sculptor Ryokichi Mukai (Japanese, 1918-2010), the curtain – a true work of art – was named Giniro-no-kigou translated as Silver Code. Largely an expression of abstract symbolism, Silver Code expresses the sciences and technology at Iowa State.

Now, after 45 years and more than 3,500 curtain calls, this magnificent work of art is in urgent need of conservation and repair. Work has already begun, with textile conservators undertaking several life-saving measures. The remaining months of the project will be devoted to cleaning and repairing the face of the curtain by conservation fellow Kate Greder, a meticulous process that must be completed by hand.

The construction of the Iowa State Center from 1966 to 1975, and especially that of C.Y. Stephens Auditorium, was a turning point for Iowa State University. President James Hilton’s vision was to transform Iowa State, both intellectually and physically, from its historical roots in agriculture and engineering to encompass the fine arts of human attainment as expressed in arts and education. This legacy is manifest in Silver Code. Iowa State is fortunate to have a tapestry of this magnitude.

Work to date on the C.Y. Stephens Auditorium art curtain is being supported by the Office of the Senior Vice President for Business and Finance, University Museums, and Iowa State Center. Yet private support is needed to complete the preservation and to restore the curtain as the crown jewel within the crown jewel of the arts at Iowa State.

To support this landmark conservation, scholarship and education project, please contact Lynette Pohlman at 515.294.6966, or the ISU Foundation, 866.419.6768,

Project questions can be directed to Kate Greder at

Two chances to see the curtain up-close: Backstage Pass - Join University Museums' staff and conservation fellow Kate Greder at Stephens Auditorium on Feb. 6, 2014 from 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm or on March 2, 2014 from Noon to 2:00 pm for an open house and tours of the ongoing work on Silver Code. These open houses are free and open to the public.

PLAYBILL- Are you attending a performance at Stephens Auditorium in the next few months? Watch your playbill for a series of articles on the curtain's history, present conservation project, and future needs.

FACEBOOK - Follow the Curtain on Facebook.

PRESS RELEASE with images

VIDEO by ISU News Service

Des Moines Register Article

To contribute to the conservation of Silver Code online go to

Please make your donation to the University Museums Special Projects fund under Gift Designations, and indicate C.Y. Stephens Curtain Conservation in the Notes field. 

To mail your contribution to the conservation of Silver Code please indicate the University Museums Special Projects fund number 2311822 and C.Y. Stephens Curtain Conservation in your check's memo field. Checks can be mailed to the Iowa State University Foundation, P.O. Box 868, Ames, IA, 50010-0868.

For further information on contributions or the conservation of Silver Code, please contact Lynette Pohlman at 515-294-6966 or


Kate Greder, conservation fellow, working on the curtain.


Below, before treatment - Top, after treatment.

Media Outlets - Regional, National and International Press for the Curtain (some links are now inactive)

National Media attention-

The San Francisco Chronicle
December 14, 2013

The Houston Chronicle
December 14, 2013

The Seattle Post
December 14, 2013

Kiro TV, Seattle
December 14, 2013

The Charlotte News
December 14, 2013

The Connecticut Post
December 14, 2013

The Stamford Advocate
December 14, 2013

The Indianapolis Star (photos only)
December 4, 2013

Pittsburg News
December 14, 2013

The Detroit Free Press (photos only)
December 4, 2013

New Canaan News
December 14, 2013

The Palm Beach Pulse
December 14, 2013

The Miami Herald
December 14, 2013

Miami News 24
December 14, 2013

The Tri City Herald in Kennewick Washington
December 14, 2013

Shreveport Times
December 8, 2013

The Livingston Daily (photos only)
December 4, 2013

San Luis Obispo Tribune
December 14, 2013

The Withita Eagle
December 14, 2013

The Asheville Citizen Times (photos only)
December 4, 2013

The Fond du Lac Reporter (photos only)
December 4, 2013

The Oshkosh Northwestern (photos only)
December 4, 2013

Asbury Park Press (photos only)
December 4, 2013

The Battle Creek Enquirer
December 4, 2013

The Lansing State Journal (photos only)
December 4, 2013

Delmarva Now (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia) (photos only)
December 4, 2013

WFTV channel 9 webpage (Daytona, FL)
December 12, 2013

KTVU channel 2 webpage (Oakland, CA) (photos only)
December 14, 2013

Idaho Statesman
December 14, 2013

Montgomery Advertiser (photos only)
December 4, 2013 (FL) (photos only)
December 4, 2013

The Californian (photos only)
December 4, 2013

Des Moines Register Story + syndication in additional state papers-

The Des Moines Register
December 8, 2013

The Altoona Herald
December 8, 2013

The Iowa City Press Citizen (photos only)
December 4, 2013

Esterville Daily
December 14, 2013

Fort Dodge Messenger
December 14, 2013

The Daily Freeman Journal (Webster City)
December 14, 2013

Sioux City Journal
December 13, 2013

Unique Coverage with separate photographer-

Ames Tribune
January 9, 2014

Iowa State Daily (campus newspaper)
November 21, 2013

VISIONS Magazine (ISU Alumni Magazine)
Winter Edition 2013

Visit Ames Webpage
December 16, 2013

Iowa State News Service
January 8, 2013

Inside Iowa State (ISU news for faculty and staff)
January 9, 2013

Iowa State Center Webpage
January 10, 2014

Television and Radio Coverage-

WHO Channel 13 News in Des Moines- Interview and news feature on the 10 o’clock news Tuesday January 14th, 2014 and the Morning Edition news programs at 6, 6:30, and 7 am on Wednesday January 15th, 2014.

March edition of the Iowa Arts Showcase on the Iowa Public Radio Classical Station (91.7 FM)

2 interviews on KASI (1430 AM) "Breakfast Club" (Friday Mornings 7:30-8:30)
Friday January 17th and Friday January 31st

International coverage-

The International Institute for Conservation
December 2013

World News Asia
December 14, 2013
December 14, 2013

Kyoto Post
December 14, 2014

Media Conservator at the Louisiana Museum of Art (tumblr blog)
December 20, 2013



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