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Dinosaur by the book

Stegowagenvolkssaurus prowls Northern Kentucky University’s library

More than 150 dinosaurs roam the wilds of Dinosaur World Kentucky in Cave City, but another, lesser known behemoth lives 182 miles north in Highland Heights. 

On the campus of Northern Kentucky University, from his perch in a glass atrium on the third floor of the W. Frank Steely Library, the 20-foot-long Stegowagenvolkssaurus keeps a watchful eye on the patrons wandering about the stacks. 

What NKU’s dino exhibit lacks in numbers it makes up for in sheer imagination and vision. 

Stego, as this great humped-back beast is affectionately known, was created by Patricia A. Renick, who taught at the University of Cincinnati for more than three decades and was known for her large-scale sculptures that pair playfulness with concern for issues that affected the artist and the world. 

In 1973, Renick took a leave of absence to transform a junkyard Volkswagen Beetle into Stegowagenvolkssaurus, which translates to “shingle-covered-car-people’s-lizard.” The 12-foot-tall creature is constructed of fiberglass, Styrofoam, automotive modeling clay and one gutted VW. 

The impetus for Renick’s design was in observing that the VW had the same humped shape as the body of a stegosaurus and reflecting on the ways cars use fossil fuels, which are made from animal and plant remains, and how they might become obsolete or extinct like dinosaurs. These were timely thoughts given the America’s mid-1970’s energy crisis. 

Sculptor Patricia Renick’s Stegowagenvolkssaurus, a large-scale steel and fiberglass sculpture. Photo: Northern Kentucky University
A close-up of Stego shows the distinct humped-back shape of the VW Beetle. Photo: Northern Kentucky University
Stego resides in Northern Kentucky University’s W. Frank Steely Library. Photo: Northern Kentucky University
Photo: Northern Kentucky University

Completed in 1974, Stegowagenvolkssaurus was exhibited several times, including at a solo show at the Cincinnati Art Museum that same year, but then relegated to a heap of parts in Chicago. In 2009, Stego was given a spit shine, faithfully restored by a high-end auto body shop, right down to its original pearlescent “Cadillac gray” paint. The artist had passed away in 2007, and some of her ashes are interred inside the Beetle.  

In addition to the Stegowagenvolkssaurus, a collection of black and white photos illustrating its creation are on display at the library, as well as Immortal in His Species, a photo exhibit by former NKU student Shay Derickson. This series of five photographs, also black and white, depict images of automobiles found in a local vehicle boneyard—including two similar to the VW Renick had repurposed for Stego and seen in the context of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick

“Two of Shay’s Moby-Dick photos feature a Volkswagen Beetle similar to the one that arrived in the Stego sculpture,” says NKU’s Robert Wallace, regents professor of English and past president of the Meville Society. “Whale oil in 1851 was the industrial equivalent of petroleum in the mid-1970s or the early 21st century. Shay was inspired by Melville’s declaration that automobiles, ‘however perishable in their individuality,’ are ‘like the great whale, immortal in their species.’ 

“Time will tell,” Wallace adds. 

Sleekly beautiful and a little mysterious, Stegowagenvolkssaurus is a roadside, or campus-side, attraction not to be missed. Visit Stego in the W. Frank Steely Library on NKU’s campus at One Louie B Nunn Drive in Highland Heights. Spring hours: 7:30 a.m.–10:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 7:30 a.m.–5 p.m. Friday; 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m. Saturday; 2:30–10 p.m. Sunday. 

Contact Information 

W. Frank Steely Library 

Northern Kentucky University 

One Louie B Nunn Drive, Highland Heights 

(859) 572-5457 

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