In many fantastical tales, trolls play the role of an agitator or villain, but this is not the case in the work of artist Thomas Dambo. The Danish sculptor crafts monumental gentle giants that hang out in forests and other locales around the world. The benevolent creatures are made of recycled wood, branches, and other debris. However, despite their often-rigid material makeup, there is a softness to them. They have kind eyes and sweet smiles that draw visitors to them.
At heights as high as 30 feet, Dambo’s trolls take a team to assemble. He constructs a frame for the figure and a group of volunteers, local to the area, will secure the hundreds of pieces that make up one character. Shipping pallets have proven one of Dambo’s most-useful materials, as they are easy to get because they are widely discarded. The artist refers to this as “rearranging other people’s trash,” turning what was once destined for a landfill and transforming it into a protector of the land.
The characters that Dambo conjures are informed by the place in which they’ll be built. Isak Heartstone, a troll that was in Breckenridge, Colorado, was inspired by the state’s history of mining. Isak Heartstone was positioned sitting on the ground, stacking rocks and was ultimately “trying to build a new little mountain because he's sad the other mountain has been broken down.” Once complete, the troll was extremely popular and had to be removed due to the number of people trying to hike in and take selfies with him.
Despite the untimely demise of Isak Heartstone, the idea that viewers would be compelled to hike to a place, or at the very least go out of their way to find the troll, speaks to a larger goal that Dambo has for his work. He wants people to enjoy his sculptures while also appreciating the nature that these larger-than-life figures inhabit. If they are reminded that these places exist, hopefully, they will take more of an effort to help protect them, just like the trolls.