"Woman's Head" (1976)

Dennis Patton (1943 - )

“Woman’s Head” (1976)

Red wood lumber, found branches and twigs

15 feet by 10 feet

What has become an Ames icon began to take shape Friday, Aug. 20, 1976, on the northeast corner of the Iowa Department of Transportation’s complex.

California sculptor Dennis Patton, in Ames on vacation, noticed the demolition of the Schoeneman Center Lumber Yard and piles of wood and materials that could be repurposed for the sake of art. After talking over ideas with friends, Patton had the idea of creating a public sculpture from the demolition materials. However, a sculpture made completely of found materials was not in the cards. Despite the efforts of the Octagon Art Center, gaining access to materials, a work location, and financial backing for Patton’s project took several days; by then the demolition site had been cleared.1

Some Ames citizens interested in public art worked together to secure a donation of new redwood lumber from Herb Schoeneman, of Sioux Falls, S.D.2 The Octagon and other donors came up with money to pay Patton for his work. Victor Preisser, the director of the Iowa DOT, received permission from the Iowa Transportation Commission to temporarily loan Patton the northeast corner of the DOT grounds as a work space,3 which meant Ames citizens were afforded a very public view of the sculpture’s creation. As shown in this image, the land was on the south side of the T-intersection where Grand Avenue ran north from the busy Lincoln Way. (This intersection has since been reconfigured, see "Woman’s Head" (1999) for details.)

Patton greatly enjoyed working near the intersection. As reported in the Ames Daily Tribune, “[P]eople honked their horns and waved as they drove by and several stopped to talk with him. The involvement Patton seeks since he likes to present his feelings on a one-to-one basis, as well as through his works of art.”4

Patton worked through the weekend to finish “Woman’s Head.” While his vision had been to create a monumental human female face and head, Patton had not come up with a name for the work, although “Head No. 1,” “Head of Ames,”5 and “Face of Ames”6 were all considered during the course of the project. However, by the time Patton and Chester C. Graham, of the Octagon’s board of directors, signed the contract transferring ownership to the Octagon on Aug. 22, 1976, the statue had been officially christened “Woman’s Head.”7

Iowa DOT Director Preisser, talking to a Des Moines Register reporter, called “Woman’s Head” "dynamite." While the entire story is not now known, Preisser and others at the Iowa DOT must have been taken with the sculpture. In the course of a few days, the northeast corner of the grounds went from temporary workspace to public sculpture garden, according to a letter from Graham.8 A sign inscribed with “A Gift to the People of Ames” and recognizing Schoeneman’s donation, as well as the support of the Union Story Bank & Trust Co., the Octagon Art Center, and anonymous Ames donors, was placed near the statue later in 1976.9

Patton was able to incorporate found local materials in the work -- at least in the hair. The original contract for “Woman’s Head” lists the material as wood and describes the work as neck/face finished texture one-by-four redwood; hair of twigs and branches. Over the years, winds and weather took a toll on “Woman’s Head.” The hair’s twigs and branches had to be replenished by Iowa DOT maintenance crews and Patton returned in 1987 to give the statue some touch ups.

Initial discussions to replace the wooden sculpture with more permanent materials began in 1988, but stalled. In 1998, however, the planned reconfiguration of the intersection and extension of Grand Avenue south of Lincoln Way meant a decision had to be made about “Woman’s Head.” The statue was located in what would become a five-lane road, and the statue was beginning to rot. Renewed discussion between Patton, then living in Mount Vernon, Iowa, and the Iowa DOT led to an agreement to rebuild the sculpture in steel and relocate it a few yards west, still visible from the intersection but not in it.

Patton’s plan was to use the wooden statue as a pattern for the steel structure. Each board of the face and neck was to be numbered and traced in steel, reproducing the original as closely as possible.

On Tuesday, Oct. 20, 1998, Patton and Iowa DOT workers loaded “Woman’s Head” (1976) onto a flatbed for transport to Mount Vernon.11 Ames would lose its most public face for nearly a year.


1. Jerry Dickinson, “Sculptor Completes Work on DOT Grounds,” Ames Daily Tribune, August 23, 1976, 1.

2. Ibid, 1.

3. “Ames’ Startling Sculpture,” Des Moines Register, August 27, 1976, Home & Family section.

4. Dickinson, ibid.

5. Des Moines Register, ibid.

6. Dickinson, ibid.

7. Octagon Art Center and Dennis Patton, “Agreement of Original Transfer of Work of Art between Octagon Art Center and Dennis Patton,” Ames, Iowa, August 22, 1976.

8. Chester E. Graham, letter to Victor Preisser, August 25, 1976.

9. Iowa Department of Transportation, “Purchase Order B-4914,” to vendor American Marking, Inc. [Des Moines], October 11, 1976.

10. “Agreement,” 1.

11. Carrie Rodovich, “Woman’s Head to Get Face Lift,” Ames Tribune, October 21, 1998.

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