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Culture Couch is WYSO's occasional series exploring the arts and culture scene in our community. It’s stories about creativity – told through creative audio storytelling.

Gigantic Trolls found at the Aullwood Audubon Center

Dambo Sculpture
Jason Reynolds
Children run under "Bibbi," a sculpture by Thomas Dambo, at the Aullwood Audubon Center. Dambo calls himself a "recycle art activist," and he hopes his big sculptures will help combat big environmental issues.

Danish artist Thomas Dambo has been hiding enormous sculptures in wooded areas all over the globe—in Europe, Asia, the Caribbean—and his most recent works can be found in Dayton.

The sound of power tools mixes with funky music along the hiking trails at Aullwood Audubon. A team of international artists has erected scaffolding, and they’re building ginormous tree trolls deep in the woods.

These towering trolls are the brainchildren of Thomas Dambo, who says it’s been a life-long thing for him.

“I guess it all started back in the happy, hippie days,” he says. “My parents, they raised a child on the ideas of sustainability and recycling and making your own clothes and making your own Halloween costumes. So, I’ve always been into recycling things and building things with my own hands. And now, I build big sculptures.”

Thomas Dambo working at Aullwood Audubon
Jason Reynolds

Big is an understatement. He’s standing under a 17 foot tall troll, and it’s not a full grown troll. It’s a child, and she’s not finished yet. The artists haven’t installed her hair… or her wings. You see, this troll is learning to fly.

That’s part of the fairytale Thomas Dambo wrote for her. He says it’s a story “about tree trolls that live in the forest. And the youngest of the tree trolls, Bibbi, she's really curious about what is outside the forest. Then one day she sees a gigantic metal bird flying in a straight line across the sky— VROOOOM! And she's like, ‘Wow! That must be like a bird that has a lot of stories from the great outside!’”

Dambo likes to make his fairy tales ring true for locals. In this case, the Dayton Airport, which is right next door, and Dayton’s favorite sons, the Wright Brothers, provided inspiration.

“Then the metal bird drops a big metal egg, and the little baby troll runs to get the egg and bring it back to her parents. She tells her parents, ‘We must find the metal bird and bring the egg back,’ but they can't find it. That's why they build a bird's nest to try to hatch it, and then Bibbi builds wings for herself to try to fly…”

A Troll Finds a Egg
Jason Reynolds

And the fairytale just keeps going from there. It’s called, “The Troll that Hatched an Egg,” and it’s on the back of the troll treasure maps available at Aullwood. Following one of those maps, you can find Bibbi, her father, the nest they built, and other sculptures.

Dambo hopes people discover the importance of recycling, too.

The heads of these trolls were made from discarded dollar store shelves in his native Denmark and shipped to the U.S. But, outside of the heads, all the wood is locally sourced and upcycled. The trolls are made from old pallets, shipping materials, gigantic metal canisters, and fallen trees.

Each troll takes roughly 800 hours of manpower to build. Dambo estimates he’s made 85 of them across the planet, and his team of artists now consists of people from Croatia, Denmark, Columbia, and America.

Mark Rivera met Dambo in Puerto Rico.

“I'm an artist as well, and he built a troll in front of my house, a troll smashing a car with his hand,” Rivera says. “So, I just tagged along for some of his projects.”

There seems to be a lot of serendipity surrounding Dambo’s work. Aulwood’s Executive Director, Alexis R. Faust, first saw some of Dambo’s work in Chicago.

“I thought, wow, this is exactly what we need here at Aullwood when we reopen to reconnect to the public, bring something new and something bold," she says. "I reached out to Thomas and they reached back, which was amazing, and they've been here, living on site, for a month.”

While Dambo and his team work on Bibbi, Faust takes me on a hike to see Bibbi’s Dad. He’s a giant troll named Bo, who sits at the confluence of two streams.

Thomas Dambo's Beaux at Aulwood Audubon
Jason Reynolds

“He’s kind of hidden,” Faust says. “Until you get up on top of him, you can't really see him. His part of the story is that he's been working very hard to build a bird's nest and he got kind of tired. so he sat down here. He has these wonderful dreadlocks made out of old grapevines. His walking stick is a tree. So, it's quite gigantic!”

Aullwood’s goal is to preserve nature and work with it. In addition to the center, they run a farm and have beehives. Faust says, they’re all about sustainability, and so Dambo’s work meshes with their mission perfectly.

Dambo says he tries to “take things that have no obvious value and turn them into something beautiful, something with meaning so that people will understand that trash does not need to be a negative type thing that's suffocating the world. It can be something really beautiful that can help us create a better future for the world."

Dambo Sculpture
Jason Reynolds

The Troll that Hatched an Egg is now open at Aullwood Audubon.

Support for Culture Couch comes from WYSO Leaders Frank Scenna and Heather Bailey, who are proud to support storytelling that sparks curiosity, highlights creativity and builds community.

Culture Couch is created at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.