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How the magical larger-than-life trolls at Bernheim Forest came to life

By Amy Joseph Landon

Source: The Courier-Journal
By Pat McDonogh
March 21, 2019

“They call me a troll, moon of the earth
wealth sucker of the giant,
destroyer of the storm-sun
beloved follower of the seeress,
guardian of the na fjord
swallower of the wheel of heaven.
What’s a troll if not that?”

— old Norse corpus translation by John Lindow

Trolls today are thought of as either cute, naked rubber dolls or someone lurking in the shadows of the digital wilderness.

Mythology has it that trolls are giant supernatural beings that live deep in the woods in small family units in Scandinavian countries. Literature depicts them as ornery, often dangerous and preferring to stay far from humans. But in the past month, three have been spotted in the woods of Bernheim Forest – a mother and two children.

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Each has a name and a story to tell, but instead of shying away from humans, these trolls hope to be found.

Pregnant troll mother “Momma Loumari” rests against a redwood tree while her children play in the woods. “Little Nis” has discovered his reflection in Holly Pond, while sister “Little Elina” forms rocks into the shape of a giant feather. The trolls come courtesy of internationally-renowned Danish artist Thomas Dambo and the 90th-anniversary celebration of Bernheim Forest.

Thomas Dambo talks about the inspiration and the creation of his giant wooden masterpieces that now call Bernheim Forest and Arboretum home. Michael Clevenger/The Courier Journal, Louisville Courier Journal

Dambo uses recycled wood from pallets, fallen trees, bourbon barrel staves and scraps from Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory to construct his forest giants.

“My sculptures are part of an international fairy tale about the struggles between mankind and nature. The giant trolls represent nature and the threat from human beings. It all taps into the traditions and folklore that we have in Denmark,” Dambo said of his artwork.

As a boy growing up with ADHD, Dambo attended a small country school where he could channel his energy creatively.

“Each grade had their own wooden house that we could build in our spare time. There was a wood shop and a crazy dude living in this old train car. We could go there and make a baseball bat or a little car, or chopping board, whatever kids make. Really simple woodworking stuff,” the artist said. “I loved to go and hang out there.

“A school that does this really teaches the kids that they control their own destiny. We all thought we were so different from the kids in the regular boxes in the big city. We’ve all performed really good because we haven’t been afraid of anything.”

“When I’m building a giant troll, the journey starts with what I see in pictures or visiting the site. I try to let the sculpture be part of the location. I like to have an installation that interacts with the surroundings and is created from the surroundings. I believe that doing these things make them become more alive,” he said. “I place my giant trolls so people have to go away from their smartphones and into nature to find them. I think the most beautiful things you find in life are not the things you see outside your window but find when you get lost and go on a detour on the journey to your destination.”

Bernheim Forest commissioned Dambo for the work for the exhibit “Forest Giants in a Giant Forest” and the trolls will “live” at Bernheim for about three years. At more than 16,000 acres, Bernheim is the largest privately held forest dedicated to conservation and education in the eastern United States.

When Isaac W. Bernheim founded the forest, he said art must be part of the conservation and education arm of the forest’s mission. He understood that “through the lens of art, people can develop deeper connections with nature,” according to Bernheim.

“Coming from a little country, it’s amazing to see such a big place like Bernheim,” Dambo said. “This forest is about 10 percent of the entire mass of Denmark. I really enjoy working in a place like this. One of the best things about my job is I get to be a little boy and crawl around in the forest and in the trees.”

How were the Forest Giants made?

The reclaimed wood used to construct the Forest Giants was gathered from Bernheim Forest and other community partners:

  • Allen’s Logging and Sawmill, Shepherdsville
  • Amlung Construction. Louisville
  • Best Made Pallets, Shepherdsville
  • Buzick Construction, Bardstown
  • Champion Wood Projects, Sellersburg, Indiana
  • Louisville Slugger, Louisville
  • Publishers Printing, Lebanon Junction
  • Speyside Cooperage Kentucky, Shepherdsville

This project was made possible through a generous anonymous donation, with additional funding from The Gheens Foundation and LG&E.

To see the full photo collection that accompanied this piece, CLICK HERE

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