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The captivating glass creations of Ray King

Posted on January 6, 2021 at 1:00 PM by Sydney Marshall


Ray King is a public artist known for working with glass, and more importantly, glass that is activated by the natural light of public spaces. King creates site specific works of art for buildings across the country and internationally. He began creating public works of art in the 1970s and has become particularly well known for his use of dichroic glass. This type of glass has a special film that allows in waves of light while reflecting a single color back towards the viewer. The colors change depending on the direction of the light and the movement of the viewer. Iowa State's Art on Campus Collection has two sculptures by Ray King, both added to the Art on Campus Collection in 1997. Both installations feature dichroic glass as the primary medium, and are wonderful examples of the sculptures King would continue creating in the years to follow.

Light Projecting Helices was recently removed from the Olsen Building as ISU Athletics prepares to expand and remodel their buildings. Light Projecting Helices may find a new home in the future, but this is one of the realities of site-specific works of art: the site could be demolished for new construction. You may still experience King's sculpture in a building many of us on campus may have visited more frequently in the past year. In 1997 King was chosen to create a site-specific work of art for the Thielen Health Center, Light River. As you enter the building, whether for a COVID test or hopefully in the near future for a vaccine, be sure to look upwards. Set in a location and space where sunlight can interact with each of the 555 glass bars, this work of art adds cheerfulness and hope to a place where many who enter may need a boost of positive energy.

As with every public art project at ISU, this site-specific sculpture was meant to fulfill a public art statement created by a group of ISU faculty and staff who are the end users of the space. In this case the selecting committee of 1997 wanted to "Establish a tranquil environment that supports trust, respect, openness, compassion and caring... it is important that a health care facility environment lift one's spirit and create a healing environment." The floating glass bars lift your eyes as well as your spirit as you enter the space, and the individual bars working together to create a river of light that is particularly beautiful at sunset.

As you enter Thielen, keep in mind King's statement that this work of art should "depict the independent and connected linkage of each of us as we move through time and space. Light has always been symbolic with healing and giving and it is my intention that the sculpture will enhance the Health Center, breathing with the movement of the sun." As each of us continue to stay apart in the early months of 2021 and wait patiently for our turn to get a vaccine in this very building, know that we as individuals are part of a larger movement.

TOP AND BELOW IMAGES: Light River, 1997 by Ray King. Holographic laminated glass, stainless steel rods and light. Located in the Thielen Student Health Center. An Iowa Art in State Buildings Project for the Student Health Center. In the Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. U97.132

INSET: Artist Ray King helps with the installation of Light River at the Thielen Student Health Center in 1997.

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