Danish artist Thomas Dambo boasts an impressive collection of trolls — and we don’t mean the 4-inch figurines with gems in their bellies (though, coincidentally, those were originally created by a Danish man named Thomas Dam).
For over a decade, Dambo has been carving massive wooden sculptures of the mythical creatures and displaying them in natural settings around the world. He’s made more than 100, naming each and often writing short, lyrical backstories for them. He’s even inspired a legion of “Troll Hunters” who seek out his work with the assistance of his interactive Troll Map.
Now, six of his fanciful creations are posted in the Pacific Northwest as part of Northwest Trolls: Way of the Bird King, a large-scale public art project launched this past August. A longtime environmentalist, Dambo built each of the 12 to 20-foot tall trolls entirely out of recycled materials, as he’s done for many of his other artworks.
The project is presented by the Scan Design Foundation, which is dedicated “to advanc[ing] Danish-American relations by supporting cultural exchanges focused on environmental sustainability,” per a news release from the organization.
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“I want people to know that trash has value. My trolls do that, and also help me tell stories, like the legends I grew up with,” Dambo said. “In nature, there is no landfill. Nature is circular, everything has a meaning and everything is recycled.”
The trolls are spread across six sites, five in Washington — Bainbridge Island (also known for its delightfully quirky mailboxes), West Seattle, Issaquah, Ballard, and Vashon Island — and one in Portland, Oregon. All are located on traditional Coast Salish territories, so Dambo and his collaborators worked closely with the Muckleshoot and Snoqualmie tribes throughout the building process, and around 200 community volunteers came together to help put together and install the trolls.
John Halliday, an artist and member of the Muckleshoot tribe who also goes by the name Coyote, was selected by the tribal council to participate in an artistic exchange element of the project. He traveled to Denmark to spend time with Dambo, who asked Halliday to paint a mural on one of his buildings. The mural featured an orca, an element the Danish creative would go on to include in his West Seattle troll’s backstory.
“Dambo brings messages to the world about taking care of our planet and not being wasteful,” Coyote told The Seattle Times. “Our tribe embraces the same values, so it was a natural collaboration. We need to take care of our Mother Earth.”
“I hope people look up at my sculptures and think about how much joy that scrap can bring,” added Dambo. “We can accomplish so much with our hands and our minds. The world is running out of resources; we’re drowning in our own trash. It’s time to think of waste as a resource.”
The trolls are set to reside in the PNW for at least the next three years. Interested viewers can learn their precise locations via the project website, which connects users to Dambo’s Troll Map.