Skip to main content
ISU University Museums
Main Content

The inspiration for Ralph Helmick's Floating World

Posted on February 12, 2021 at 10:00 AM by Betsy Grabinski

Located the Biorenewables Complex, Floating World by Ralph Helmick was installed in 2014. The full installation includes the steel structure hanging from the ceiling, as well as bronze medallions embedded in the floor that help tell the story of the seven suspended panels.

According to the artist, “Floating World is inspired by the paintings of Grant Wood and by compositional strategies employed in Japanese woodblock prints (ukiyo-e, literally “floating world”). Thematically, the sculpture embodies the university’s central role in the history of agriculture, while subtly reflecting ISU’s groundbreaking contemporary endeavors.” (2014)

The images on the panels take the viewer on a historic journey of Iowa starting with the birds and plants of the pre-historic prairie, transforming to farmland, moving towards industrialized farming, and ending with the latest scientific innovations that have transformed the industry. The trees depicted are all native to Iowa, the Sukup medium duty hopper bins designed in the 80’s, John Deer tractors, Ford automobiles, corn, soy, and  even a cutout of the American Gothic House made famous by artist Grant Wood.

Floating World is part of Iowa State’s collection 2500 public works of art, known collectively as the Art on Campus Collection, the largest campus public art program of its kind in the nation. This vast collection can be seen in nearly every corner of campus. Tour virtually with our digital Art on Campus map.

Why is public art on ISU campus important? The University Museums’ Visual Literacy and Learning Program helps incorporate works of art like Floating World in curriculum across all colleges and majors. Through tours and exhibitions, faculty use public art to broaden their students’ understanding in a particular field of study, from mechanical engineering and agronomy to fashion studies and biology.

IMAGE ABOVE RIGHT: Artist Ralph Helmick assembles the planning maquette for Floating World in his studio in 2014.

IMAGES BELOW: Floating World, 2014 by Ralph Helmick (American, born 1952). Powder coated steel, terrazzo, bronze. Located in the Biorenewables Complex. Iowa Art in State Buildings for the Biorenewables Complex. Commissioned by the University Museums and the Departments of the Biorenewables Complex. In the Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. U2014.41a-dd

© 2023 University Museums, Iowa State University. All rights reserved.