Arts and Culture

Trolls in the northern Minnesota woods with a message

A Danish artist is building a whimsical installation of large trolls near Detroit Lakes, with a serious message for humans.

a troll sculpture in the woods
A troll sculpture created by Danish artist Thomas Dambo in Vermont in 2023. Dambo is constructing several large trolls from recycled materials as part of an art installation centered around Detroit Lakes.
Courtesy of Thomas Dambo

Giant trolls are rising from the ground in and around Detroit Lakes this summer. 

The large sculptures made from recycled materials are the work of Danish artist Thomas Dambo.

Dambo has built troll installations in 17 countries. Minnesota is the 18th state where he has added trolls to the landscape, and the Detroit Lakes installation will be the largest he has built in the U.S.

“There is nine sculptures where six of them are trolls. And then there’s also kind of like a villain,” explained Dambo.

Most of the trolls will be built around Detroit Lakes in obscure locations requiring a hike into the woods to see them. There will also be two installations in Fargo and one in Perham according to Dambo. The entire installation is built around a folk tale written by Dambo and designed for audience interaction.

“The concept is that you have to help the troll called Alexa brew an elixir to basically help set the humans free from a curse that an evil golden rabbit has thrown on the humans,” said Dambo. “And then you do that by helping her collect the five ingredients that she is brewing in her big pot.”

a bearded man with a yellow hat
Danish artist Thomas Dambo talks about his art installation on Thursday in Detroit Lakes.
Dan Gunderson | MPR News

Dambo is taking pains to keep the sculptures under wraps until they are completed. He won’t allow photos of the construction. The trolls are large, with one measuring 36 feet from head to toe.

The art might be whimsical, but the message is serious. The world is drowning in trash, said Dambo and he wants to encourage recycling by showing what can be created from discarded materials. He sees his trolls as a voice for forests and the creatures that inhabit them.

“So, it’s a little bit like a children’s fairy tale poem,” he said. “So I hope that people will come out and find the trolls and be reminded of how beautiful the nature is here and how important it is to protect it.”

Dambo was brought to Detroit Lakes by Project 412, a nonprofit organization focused on connecting people, places and ideas.

“The reason Project 412 is taking on this giant project is because it does bring people together, it rises above some of the differences that we perceive that we have amongst us,” said executive director Amy Stearns.

“[It] brings you out into nature to try to find these magical, wonderful trolls. And you’re going make community as you’re doing it.”

The troll installation is expected to be complete by mid-June.

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