Giant Wooden Trolls Have Emerged at The Morton Arboretum as Troll Hunt Makes Its Debut

Children gather around a 20-foot-tall troll made of reclaimed wood and holding a boulder over his head
The troll Rocky Bardur stands near The Morton Arboretum's entrance, a boulder held high over his head. This creature is one of six found among the Arboretum's wooded grounds.
July 5, 2018

Amidst leafy green trees, along woodland trails, and encircled by fields of tall grasses and wildflowers lies something truly astonishing. The colossal wooden creatures of The Morton Arboretum’s new Troll Hunt exhibition have emerged from the forest, called to guard the natural beauty that surrounds them from human impact.

The first large-scale U.S. exhibition by Danish artist Thomas Dambo, Troll Hunt features trolls constructed from reclaimed wood that rise 15 to 30 feet tall—one troll reclining on his back measures a striking 60 feet long. Each troll is one of a kind and inspired by its distinct location at the Arboretum. These creatures are part of an international series from Dambo. The first of the artist's mammoth wooden installations, the Six Forgotten Giants, reside in his home city of Copenhagen.

Built to be both mischievous and thought-provoking, the trolls of Troll Hunt invite visitors to interact with them, while elements of the exhibition encourage visitors to consider their personal responsibility as stewards of our environment. For example, Sneaky Socks Alexa kneels near a “trap,” a simple wooden crate propped open with a log. One end of a rope is tied to the stick while the other end is clasped in her hand as the creature waits to catch a human for study. Furry Ema sits next to a tree, holding a long rod that crosses a low-hanging tree branch. At the end of the rod dangles a net that visitors can climb into to be “captured.” Joe the Guardian, his hand held to his brow, stands atop a tall berm separating the Arboretum from a nearby expressway, surveying the scurrying cars below him while he grips a 30-foot-tall spear. To create the trolls, Dambo put to use hundreds of pieces of reclaimed wood—battered boards, fallen trees and branches, and the remains of pallets and packing crates.

Those who stand in the shadow of these immense wooden trolls may wonder where they came from and why are they here. Visitors will learn the answers to those questions and more as they seek out the trolls, who are in turn trying to make sense of the human world around them, hunting us with nets and other contraptions to safeguard the forest.

Visitors are encouraged to seek out these larger-than-life creatures by solving clues in a special Troll Hunter’s Handbook, a guide that will help troll hunters discover where each creature resides within the Arboretum’s 1,700 acre grounds as well as the site of its secluded hideout in the woods. This dwelling sheltered by the Arboretum’s towering trees gives adventurers a look into the lives of these forest guardians.

“People around the world have admired Thomas Dambo’s large-scale recycled wood creations in his native Denmark and on social media, and we are thrilled to host his first-ever large-scale artist-in-residence exhibition in the United States,” said Sue Wagner, vice president of education and information at The Morton Arboretum. “His trolls and the story behind themthat they are protectors of our forestswill amaze and intrigue visitors of all ages, while drawing attention to how humans can better care for trees and the environment in which we live.”

All summer long, visitors can board special Troll Hunt trams, which will stop at key points so that Arboretum visitors can experience the trolls and take pictures. Tours will run an hour and a half, starting from the tram circle outside the Arboretum’s Visitor Center.

Trolls will remain through 2018. Trolls may be on view into 2019 depending on how they weather the Chicago winter.

The Morton Arboretum thanks sponsors International Paper, Marquette Companies and Plante Moran for their generous support of Troll Hunt.

About Thomas Dambo
Thomas Dambo collects and reuses wood that would otherwise be wasted for his whimsical, epic-scale sculptures, which he has erected from Denmark to Australia. He got his start turning scrap wood into birdhouses–some 3,500 so far in cities from Beirut to Berlin–and now his art can be found around the globe. Each of his pieces convey the importance of sustainability, a mission shared by The Morton Arboretum as it works toward a greener, healthier, and more beautiful world through the planting, care of and conservation of trees. Dambo may be best known for the Six Forgotten Giants, enormous characters created from discarded wood pallets scattered throughout his home city of Copenhagen.