Minnesota News

A giant troll installation and treasure hunt opens in northern Minnesota

a tall wooden sculpture of a troll
At 36 feet tall, Long Leif is the largest of the nearly 140 troll sculptures Thomas Dambo has built around the world. He was debuted to a select few on June 6.
Dan Gunderson | MPR News

Quick Read

An art installation of giant wooden trolls in and around Detroit Lakes is designed to give visitors a whimsical experience while drawing attention to trash and recycling.

A larger-than-life art installation opens Monday, June 10 in and around Detroit Lakes.

The work of Danish artist Thomas Dambo involves very large trolls made of recycled materials and a fairy tale with clues to help visitors find the sculptures and the ultimate prize, a golden rabbit.

a man talking
Thomas Dambo talks to reporters at the site of one of his troll sculptures in the woods near Detroit Lakes.
Dan Gunderson | MPR News

Dambo aims for mystery and whimsy in his work with an underlying message of environmental activism.

“And I go to great lengths to hide them because I want to show us all that trash is a treasure,” he said.

In the spirit of mystery and whimsy, Dambo recently brought reporters to a secret hideaway in the woods near Detroit Lakes to see a giant golden rabbit.

He confiscated cell phones and mandated blindfolds for a portion of the noisy, jouncing ride through the woods on an all-terrain vehicle.

There are five giant trolls made of recycled wood in his story, three mirrored portals and the giant rabbit built of recycled plastic bins.

a large yellow rabbit sculpture
Workers put the finishing touches on large yellow rabbit made with recycled plastic and hidden in the woods near Detroit Lakes.
Dan Gunderson | MPR News

The installation revolves around a fairy tale created by Dambo.

“And in this fairy tale, there is a little bad bunny, a bad rabbit in the story. And this one is hiding somewhere far away that’s really really hard to find,” he explained. “You can only find it if you can solve a riddle.”

The riddle starts in Detroit Lakes City Park with a large troll wielding a spoon. She’s named Alexa Elixir.

“And because it’s named Alexa’s Elixir, I take it really to heart that Tom has made it like this because I love making him elixirs when he’s not feeling so well,” said Dambo’s wife Alexa Piekarski. “It’s like apple cider vinegar, garlic, onion, cayenne pepper, to really try and knock out a sickness if something’s coming on.”

a wooden troll holding a spoon
A troll named Alexa is mixing an elixir as part of a fairy tale written by artist Thomas Dambo. Visitors can use the story to help find giant sculptures scattered around the Detroit Lakes area and as far away as Fargo and Perham.
Dan Gunderson | MPR News

Dambo has built sculptures in 17 countries and 19 U.S. states. He called the Detroit Lakes installation his largest to date, and a troll sculpture named Long Leif is, at 36 feet, the tallest sculpture Dambo has constructed.

A work crew of 15 and more than 300 volunteers helped build the sculptures. Dambo creates the heads in his Copenhagen workshop and ships them to the installation site.

Local businesses and individuals donated funds to build each sculpture. Local organizers won’t disclose the total cost of the project.

a man looks through a window
Artist Thomas Dambo talks to reporters in a blacked out van used to transport them to a secret location in the woods near Detroit Lakes.
Dan Gunderson | MPR News

Volunteer Renee Fasteen was helping build hundreds of bird houses that are part of the art installation.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing that’s happening,” she said. “And I said to myself, ‘If I don’t do it now, I’ll probably regret it.’”

Volunteer Janelle Disrud said the art project has captivated the community.

“People are so excited, from social media to you’ll be sitting in a restaurant and hear people talking about it,” she said. “Everyone’s talking about the trolls and people are very protective of trying to keep the location secret.”

Local tourism officials hope the trolls bring more visitors to a town that’s already a Minnesota tourist destination.

a wooden troll head
The head of a wooden troll built by Danish artist Thomas Dambo.
Dan Gunderson | MPR News

Dambo is excited to see this installation completed and said he was delighted to hear that the company whose yellow plastic bins he rescued from the landfill to build a golden rabbit has decided to find a way to recycle those bins.

“For me that’s what makes me feel like a proud daddy — that the art can have this impact. It’s those small steps that I think matter so that we end up being able to develop a cleaner, nicer future for the next generation.”

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