Pia the Peacemaker, on of Thomas Dambo’s Northwest Trolls, sits in the trees on Bainbridge Island. Credit: Jennifer Johnson
A magical new adventure has unfolded around the Pacific Northwest, and families are going to want to take part in it.
One by one, giant troll sculptures have sneaked into our region. As each troll has been built and its secret location revealed, local families have flocked to see them. Now that all six Pacific Northwest trolls have awakened, take a trip to find one — or all — on an unusual outing. These charming giants combine art, nature and environmentalism into an interactive public art form.
This public art exhibition, titled “Northwest Trolls: Way of the Bird King,” is the work of Thomas Dambo, a Danish artist and storyteller. Dambo and his crew took a road trip across the United States this past summer, stopping in various places to create troll sculptures in parks and natural spaces. The last leg of Dambo’s road trip brought him to the Pacific Northwest, where he and his team have constructed six unique new trolls right in our neck of the woods!
Pacific Northwest trolls
Our first Pacific Northwest troll moved in at Portland’s Nordic Northwest, a museum and cultural center. This troll’s name is Ole Bolle, and he has his own little red playhouse. Kids are welcome to go inside. Do stop in if you’re in the Portland area.
The second regional troll made her debut on Bainbridge Island. At the reveal — or “awakening” — of this troll, we learned that her name is Pia the Peacemaker.
Pia and the other trolls are created from recycled materials, as well as items from local forests, meadows, mountains, farms and the sea. Among them are fir branches, driftwood, moss, shells, cedar and apple branches. Pia holds her hands in such a way that visitors can climb into them, imagining they are puppets that the troll is manipulating. Kids will love clambering on her sturdy arms and legs.
The next troll to pop up was at West Seattle’s Lincoln Park. Her name is Bruun Idun and from her spot in the trees, she sings to the orcas of the Salish Sea.
After Bruun Idun’s arrival in West Seattle, another troll awoke in the Issaquah forest. His name is Jakob Two Trees, and he’s taken up residence next to the Rainier Trail near the Issaquah Community Center. Because Jakob Two Trees lives right in town (though up in the trees), he’s become very popular since his debut.
The fifth troll of Dambo’s project was unveiled on Vashon Island. This grand troll is the namesake of the entire Pacific Northwest project: Oscar the Bird King. Find Oscar at Point Robinson, where you will want to closely inspect Oscar’s incredible crown and beard.
The final troll, in Ballard, made his debut in front of a crowd of adoring fans on a sunny September afternoon. His name is Frankie Feetsplinters. Unlike some of the other trolls, Frankie is not hiding in the woods. He’s keeping watch at the entrance to the National Nordic Museum right on Market Street.
Secret troll locations
The precise location of each troll was kept secret until the day it awoke. Using clues from the artist’s Instagram feed and YouTube channel, together with the somewhat vague online Troll Map, families tried to figure out where to find each troll. Now that all the “Way of the Bird King” trolls have been revealed, troll hunters can go on a quest to visit them all.
Our local troop of trolls adds to the more than 100 already in place around the world. Each troll has a clever name as well as a delightful backstory that connects to a theme.
Dambo uses recycled materials, mostly discarded pallets, to build the trolls. For each one, he weaves themes of honoring the land and protecting nature into its story. Locally, he and his team worked with area tribes, as well as parks departments, museums, funding agencies and volunteers.
With trolls scattered across the world, some troll superfans have traveled to other countries to find Dambo’s creatures, and in the process, formed an international community. Previously awakened trolls include Benny the Beard Fisher, fishing with a long beard in a river in Michigan; and Rita the Rock Planter, who fills human-made holes by planting rocks in them on a mountainside in Colorado.
Through his art, Dambo hopes to encourage everyone to be curious, to get outside and explore, while also prompting us to think about protecting the nature around us. He invites families curious about the trolls to think carefully about our planet’s shortage of resources and abundance of garbage. Through his work, he seeks to highlight that trash can truly become treasure.
“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 a press release. “In nature, there is no landfill. Nature is circular, everything has a meaning and everything is recycled.”
In the Pacific Northwest, the Scan Design Foundation managed this ambitious project, with funding from the Paul G. Allen Foundation and many other local donors.
If you go ...
Find the trolls:
How long will the trolls be around? Trolls are installed for three years and may stay in their locations longer, if the host organization so chooses.
Tips for families: It’s free to visit the trolls but keep in mind that locations can get busy. Pack your patience and come back later if the troll is overrun with fans. (Access to a troll in Vermont had to be closed down because of crowds.) Of course, be respectful of the public art as well as the facilities hosting the trolls.