Ancient Forest Giants Arise in Bernheim: An Exclusive Interview with Creator Thomas Dambo

Forest of Giants Bernheim ForestLouisville Halloween Interviews Danish artist Thomas Dambo about his mythic career and his latest creations unleashed in Bernheim Forest!

Forest of Giants Bernheim Forest

Ancient behemoths, long forgotten by human history, have arisen from their eternal slumber to walk the earth again. Over the last decade, they have begun to emerge all of over the world from Denmark to Korea to right here in the United States. Their 39-year-old creator, Danish street artist Thomas Dambo, says there are over 40 giant trolls currently hidden in natural locations across the globe awaiting discovery by adventure seekers. “There are six in Chicago, one in Tennessee and one in Breckenridge, Colorado,” says Dambo.

These forgotten giants of prehistory have now been joined by three new members right in our own backyard. You can seek out these 12 to 15-foot forest trolls yourself, hidden amongst the unspoiled natural backdrop within the Abortetum trails in Bernheim Forest. Celebrating the park’s 90th anniversary, Bernheim has supplied Dambo with repurposed lumber rescued from trees fallen by recent ice storms and locally used bourbon barrels to construct these mountainous monstrosities. If you search the wooded landscape carefully, you’ll discover a family unit of trolls exploring the area: Momma Loumari and her children Little Nis and Little Elina.

“All of the trolls are part of one big story,” explains Dambo, “and I am currently developing a website that will let people discover how each of them relates to the overall storyline.”

“These big, wild trolls are millions of years old and they represent nature,” he elaborates. “Humans have only come into existence very recently, but they are having a huge impact on the world they live in. The disturbance that humans have caused has awakened these ancient beings who are now coming to the surface to see what’s going on.”

Forest of Giants Bernheim Forest

“The trolls here in Bernheim are more the nesting, benign type,” explains Dambo, “but not all of them are. Some of them hunt and eat human beings. Humans are small and often don’t see the bigger picture of the damage they are doing to the planet they live on, but the trolls are much older and bigger and have a much wider view of the earth.”

Dambo confesses to a lifelong fascination with folklore and Nordic mythology. The artist grew up in what he describes as a “collective community” with hippie parents in Odense, Denmark. “The scale of my sandbox was bigger than some other kids. I grew up building treehouses and underground caves to play in and went to school in the countryside. When I was 11 or 12 years old, every year our class would go on these two-week excursions into the wilderness. Our teacher taught us how to collect trash and things that other people were throwing away, and we would take these things to a local flea market and sell them to fund the trips. That’s where I got the idea for collecting the trash we throw out and reusing it for another purpose.”

After high school, Dambo studied to become a carpenter, but struggled with a form of ADHD that found him quickly bored with the repetitive nature of the work, so he applied to the Kolding School of Design where he worked on a project building over 3,000 birdhouses from used lumber and relocated them in cities across the world. After opening a studio in Copenhagen, Dambo pursued a career as a street graffiti artist and beatbox rapper.

Forest of Giants Bernheim Forest

“What I do now, I try to apply what I did as a street artist to land art,” says Dambo. “In some ways, I’m doing the same thing I did as a kid, only on a much bigger scale.”

Some of Dambo’s scarier creations include Olav the Wolf, a giant werewolf he constructed for the Copenhell Heavy Metal Rock Festival in Copenhagen, which was burned Wicker Man-style in a tradition that closes the festival. Dambo has also built several Halloween themed giants for the Suwannee Hulaween Festival in Live Oak, Florida including the man-eating Snorra of Suwannee troll and Sly the Spy, a giant spider creature with a hangout spot for festival guests carved out inside its’ body.

“Halloween has only been celebrated in Denmark for about the last 10 years,” admits Dambo. “We have something very similar called Fastelavn which is sort of like your Easter and Halloween holidays mixed together.” Fastelavn is celebrated annually on the weekend before Ash Wednesday and it involves dressing up in costumes and children going door-to-door seeking treats.

“There is a traditional game played called Cat in a Barrel that’s something like what you would know as a pinata,” explains Dambo of one of Denmark’s more infamous Fastelavn’s traditions. “A wooden barrel is filled with candy and fruit and then a black cat is put inside and the barrel is sealed. People take turns hitting the barrel with a stick until it breaks open and the cat escapes. The black cat represents evil and the game is a way of symbolically expelling evil, so whoever frees the cat is the King of the Festival.”

Dambo’s forest giants are now completed and ready for viewing amid Bernheim Forest’s Arboretum Trails where they are scheduled to remain on display for approximately the next three years. It’s clearly important to the artist that his mythical creatures connect seamlessly with the natural environment.

“The images of the forest giants have been shared thousands of times online and my team gets offers from all over the world,” says Dambo. “One of the offers came from Bernheim Forest about a year and a half ago, and I came out here for a visit and fell in love with the unspoiled beauty of the park,” confesses Dambo who adds, “I want my work to be part of the landscape. Little Nis, for example, has come out of the forest to look at his reflection in the lake. When people take his picture, they can’t just take a picture of the giant because the lake is part of the image and the trees are part of the background. It’s all connected.”

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