Arts and Culture

A 4,800-pound triceratops statue, affectionately known to some Louisvillians as “Lottie,” has come a long way in just a few weeks.

“She was in pretty bad shape when we got her,” said Jim Doiron, chief theming officer at Weber Group, a design and construction firm in Sellersburg, Indiana.

Sinclair Oil commissioned the triceratops statue, plus several others, for a 1964 display at the World’s Fair in New York. The dino then made its way to Kentucky with a brief stint at a Sinclair station off Preston Highway and the Louisville Zoo – though a zoo representative couldn’t find documentation beyond people’s memories of its presence there. 

The statue moved to the Kentucky Science Center in 1979, where it sat in a parking lot for years. The center then relocated it to storage in 2008 to make way for a construction project. 

Doiron said temperature changes and flooding were not kind to “Lottie.” 

“The surface has a lot of cracking and crazing…the tail was actually at one point hit by a car, and so the tail had broken off,” he said.

The work wasn’t complicated for Doiron’s team because they “do this everyday.”

“But it definitely involved a lot of folks to get those repairs made,” he said.

Dinosaur statue restoration, right up the Weber Group’s alley

Brothers Tom and Donny Weber founded the company in Louisville in 1983.

“They were just right-time, right-place kind of people and went and seized the opportunities before them, which started through traditional design and built architecture in town,” said Max Weber, the firm’s chief marketing officer and Tom Weber’s son. 

The company has evolved to specialize in the fantastical. 

It’s built and renovated amusement parks, constructed a giant orangutan for a zoo exhibit, and is helping design AHOY (Adventure House of You), an immersive children’s space at Louisville’s Portland Museum – the museum is also hosting an exhibition about the company through mid-September. 

Max Weber said the company likes to do projects that make people say “wow,” like when a client recently asked if they could build a 20-foot-tall slice of pizza.

“I’m like, ‘yeah, no problem,’” he said. 

The Kentucky Science Center certainly hopes this triceratops brings its own “wow” factor. 

On Monday, crews installed the dinosaur atop the science center’s elevator shaft, the statue’s new permanent home, which is visible from I-64.

A crane lifts the triceratops statue into the air to place atop the Kentucky Science Center's elevator shaft on Aug. 15, 2022.Rocko Jerome

A crane lifts the triceratops statue into the air to place atop the Kentucky Science Center’s elevator shaft on Aug. 15, 2022.

Kentucky Science Center chief executive officer Mike Norman said he hopes it will be as iconic as the giant bat in front of the Louisville Slugger Museum.

“There’s 80,000 cars a day that go by our building here on West Main Street, so we’re like, ‘Oh, my goodness, put the dinosaur there,’” he said.

The center put $55,000 into refurbishing the statue, according to Norman. The majority of those funds came from Metro Government, a city spokesperson confirmed.

Norman said he hopes the vibrant triceratops sends a clear message. 

“We want folks to know who we are, where we are, and that science is important,” he said. “You know, that’s what we’re about. We want to promote science literacy and nurture lifelong learning.”

Bringing the dinosaur back to its former glory

The Weber Group repaired the dinosaur’s tail and replaced part of the steel frame that runs through its legs, in addition to a fresh coat of paint.

Doiron said the company paid close attention to the original texture of the statue, “not wanting to deviate too much from that.”

“That’s why the artists, the first thing they did was they took a stamp of a good general area of that texture so that we could recreate it,” he said.

They also used a tinted liquid to make the beast’s skin look more realistic. Artist Mary Kate Dillamarter demonstrated the process during a recent check-in.

“So this is a wash, basically rubbing into any of the cracks and rubbing off of the surface so that we can kind of have a little bit more depth in the texture on the skin,” she said.

Artist Mary Kate Dillamarter brushes a wash onto the triceratops statue and then uses a small towel to rub it in and create depth.Stephanie Wolf | wfpl.org

Artist Mary Kate Dillamarter brushes a wash onto the triceratops statue and then uses a small towel to rub it in and create depth.

Doiron understands how beloved the triceratops is among locals. He has his own memories of it.

“I distinctly remember, as a kid, having that triceratops there at the science center,” he said. “So whenever we’d go on field trips, we’d either eat lunch around the triceratops or we’d meet at the triceratops.”

A cause to rally behind

If the science center didn’t take on the cost of the restoration work, then Terry Langford was willing to.

Langford, a town council member for Sellersburg, remembered seeing Lottie at the zoo in the ‘70s. But his attachment to the fiberglass creature goes much deeper.

“My grandfather owned a Sinclair station here in town and retired from that in the early ‘70s, and it’s just always piqued my interest,” Langford said.

His home and yard are full of Sinclair oil memorabilia: a gas pump, dinner plate, matchbook covers and a green ‘66 Chevy pick up truck that’s a replica of his grandfather’s station shop truck. Langford was ready to invest his own money into restoring the triceratops and bring it to Sellersburg to be prominently displayed in town.

“The fact that it was sitting there just rotting away, it not only bothered me, it bothered enough people that there is a Facebook page, there are people that really want to see this thing restored,” Langford said. “Some things from your childhood, you remember, I can’t explain why. But something drew me to it. And that’s why I wanted to restore it.”

He’s not bitter about how things turned out. In fact, he’s thrilled to see the triceratops get some TLC. 

J. Tyler Franklin | wfpl.org

From it’s new home at the Kentucky Science Center, the triceratops statue overlooks part of I-64 along the Ohio River.

Rocko Jerome has been obsessed with the fate of this fine dinosaur for years. 

“I have a great many different obsessions,” he said. “Four of them in quick succession include mid-century modern things, kitschy things, dinosaurs and Louisville things. Lottie is all four of those things. So she checks a lot of boxes for me.”

Jerome has done research, collected stories and created a website dedicated to the dinosaur. He also gave it the name “Lottie,” which stands for Louisville’s Own Triceratops, and launched an initiative called Operation: CAR LOT (Community Action–Rescue Louisville’s Own Triceratops). 

Several years ago, he was working with the science center and building momentum on this issue. 

“Then COVID happened, and everything surrounding Breonna Taylor and all of those sorts of things that were happening in the city for everybody that lived during that heart wrenching time, and it didn’t seem like making a big deal about a fiberglass dinosaur made much sense,” Jerome said.

More recently, he’s been visiting Lottie at the Weber Group, documenting its restoration on a Facebook page.

Jerome thinks, in the midst of an ongoing pandemic, weather-related disasters and other difficult news, a win for Lottie is a win for us all. 

“I definitely think that being able to be excited about this decades-old dinosaur that’s getting a new lease on life, [is] good news, and it’s definitely something to celebrate,” he said.

But soon, Lottie may no longer be called “Lottie.” 

The science center held a naming contest to raise money, and will reveal the new name next month.

Stephanie Wolf is WFPL's Arts & Culture Reporter.