Steve McGuire: Perfect timing

By Pat Shaver

IOWA CITY–He’s a proven life-saver, avid bicyclist, artist and builder.

Those in the Corridor who’ve made big New Year’s resolutions, especially those who plan to become healthier, nicer and smarter, have a tough act to follow when it comes to Steve McGuire.

Mr. McGuire is a professor of 3-D design and studio division coordinator at the University of Iowa. He is known throughout the region for his efforts during the flooding of 2008, his participation on UI search committees and other work, as well as his uncanny timing.
More than once, Mr. McGuire has been riding his bicycle along the Iowa River and saved people who have fallen in.

What many in the Corridor might not know about Mr. McGuire is his background. As a child, he spent much time with his grandparents, who happened to be deaf and mute. Mr. McGuire was around to help them communicate. During those years, he picked up an interest in art from his creative grandfather.

“There was never a time I wouldn’t be painting or drawing,” he said.

Now, Mr. McGuire teaches 3-D bicycle building classes at the UI. He enjoys the connections between art and building bikes.

“I liked building things, it’s a lot like drawing. I like the physical interaction of putting things together,” he said. “As I get older, the relationship between art making and your life, it has a curious drive. When you make artwork, you’re informing yourself what you know in the way that you know it.”

Teaching art

Twenty students were enrolled in his bicycle-building class this past fall; half of them were engineering students.

“Some students have built as many as five bikes,” he said.

Teaching art makes Mr. McGuire a better artist, he said.

“I realized in my 20s that I did like teaching,” he said. “It’s a terrific way to go about making art. When you teach art, you learn a lot about making art. Being a teacher makes you a better artist.”

Learning the basic skills, reading about art and knowing the history behind different works leads to a successful art student, he said.

“I don’t know anybody who can’t learn how to draw successfully,” Mr. McGuire added. “It’s a regular skill set.”


Mr. McGuire has rescued people from the Iowa River three times.

In 2007, Iowa Gov. Chet Culver presented the Lifesaving with Valor award to Mr. McGuire and three other men who helped save a woman and her two children. He received the same award in 1993 from Gov. Terry Branstad, and in 2003 from Gov. Tom Vilsack.

Mr. McGuire acknowledges that the chances of being near the river and receiving the award three times are low. He notes that during those times, he lived and worked near the Iowa River. He would often bike near the river.

“Honestly, I don’t think I really thought too much about it (saving people from the river). The last time I caught myself thinking for milliseconds, I shut it off,” he said. “What I learned when I was younger, you’re riding your bike and doing fairly insane stunts and if I focused on how I was going to land, I couldn’t do it. You really learn to suspend thinking and let your body take charge.”

In 1993, Mr. McGuire was heading home and was near the river when he saved a man who was wedged between branches in the river. In 2003, he was at his home when a stranger ran to his door telling him someone was in the river; an older man’s boat had capsized in the river. In 2007, he saw a red Suburban going under water. Mr. McGuire and two other men saved a woman and her two children.

That same year, Mr. McGuire’s home in Iowa City was also flooded.


His first taste of distance bicycling began with the 36 miles he pedaled to and from his school in urban Kansas City. He upped the ante as a UI sculpture grad student in the early 1980s, when he decided he’d bike the 300 miles home.

When he was a graduate student at the UI, Mr. McGuire decided to give his Toyota Corolla to his younger brother. He bought a bicycle to travel around town. During his breaks from school, Mr. McGuire would ride his bike the 300 miles from Iowa City to Kansas City.

He’s completed several bike trips across the country and competes in endurance races.

“When I took that first trip, what I loved was that no matter where I thought the day would end, it would change,” he said. “It was an unbelievable adventure.”

His current project, called “Design It, Build It, Ride It,” is an exhibition (design, metal arts and drawings) featuring titanium hand-built bicycles and the stories of time trialing them, self-supported, in specific locations: a 200-mile-long bicycling endurance challenge on the gravel and dirt roads of the Kansas Flint Hills; a nine-day, 470-mile, time-trial on a primitive and remote route of single track and jeep trails through forgotten passes of the Colorado Trail with more than 300 miles of single-track through the Colorado Rocky Mountains; and a nine-day time-trial through Continental Divide passes in Alberta, British Columbia and Montana.

Mr. McGuire, a UI faculty member since 1988, earned a master’s degree in sculpture and doctorate in art education (philosophy of interpretation) at the UI. He has exhibited, performed and conducted art workshops nationally and internationally.

Studio arts

Mr. McGuire was also involved in helping the UI’s studio arts department find a new location after its buildings flooded in 2008. The studio arts program is now located at the former Menard’s building, 1375 Highway 1, Iowa City.

“Big box store buildings were never meant for this kind of programming,” he said. “We’re constantly dealing with the different challenges of the building.”

The new studio arts building will be located northwest of Art Building West and will be at least 2 feet above the 500-year floodplain. The structure will be designed for maximum natural light and include potential green features like radiant heat, perforated exterior panels that control light and heat. Completion is projected for April 2016.

“It’s going to be really beautiful, there aren’t too many art buildings being built. This is going to be the best studio arts building in the country, period,” he said.