Not all trolls are scary. Some are delightful.
By Darya Mead
The Pacific Northwest is amidst a bit of a troll fest.
These gigantic guerilla art pieces are tucked away under overpasses, in forests and other public spaces. Made with primarily recyclable materials, trolls are now popping up all over, to the delight of toddlers, teens, grandparents and everyone in between.
For almost a decade, Thomas Dambo has been creating a platoon of trolls for the public to enjoy. Many of these mythical characters are scattered around the world. Towering over their natural surroundings and standing between 12 and 20 feet tall, the wooden figures magically appear on hiking trails and outdoor recreational places, beckoning the young, and young at heart to get outside and enjoy nature. The Danish artist hopes his fantastical art pieces will encourage members of the public to get off screens, get outdoors and think more about our environment and how to protect it.
When my kids were little, they were afraid of trolls. I remember The Three Billy Goats Gruff story was a bit of a non-starter, and once a friend gave my older son this muppet-like “Monster in the Closet” stuffed animal and book. He was terrified of it and made me not only remove it from his closet but remove it from the house. Both boys did however love the Maurice Sendak classic Where the Wild Things Are and when they were little, there was this awesome indoor play experience at the Yerba Buena Metreon in San Francisco honoring the book. We loved that place and were sad when it closed.
Cut to 2023 and clearly all grown up, the idea of a troupe of whimsical trolls was appealing… especially to me.
I’m a little fixated on these trolls for so many reasons. I really wanted to see Pia in September, but, now with all the horrors of war, I felt more compelled to bask in her aura on a return visit for Thanksgiving. I was picking up my boys at the Bainbridge ferry for a family gathering at my mother-in-law’s on the Olympic Peninsula; I had arrived a few days earlier. Pia was in a park quite close to the ferry terminal, so I took a little ‘Darya detour’ to see her thinking my cynical boys would not be into it. When I showed them the photos, they wanted to see her. The coolest thing was that birds were nesting in her hair and my husband now wants to try to build one for our communal ranch in Ukiah.
The six Dambo trolls dotted around the Seattle-and-beyond area are not scary trolls. And judging by the kiddos I encountered visiting “Jakob Two Trees” in Issaquah, Washington, “delight” would understate their reaction. In fact, I was so excited by the idea of these trolls, I felt like an expectant toddler myself.
On the short walk from the parking lot, we saw families of all ages—kids on bikes, in strollers, in backpacks and in wagons—all headed towards the two trees where Jakob stands guarding the trail. The squeals and photo ops were pleasing, with folks of all ethnicities and ages captivated by the towering congenial fellow.
On this trip to Seattle in September 2023, my oft-contrarian husband refused to get out of the car to see the original Fremont Troll (not part of Dambo’s oeuvre). I had visited the troll a few years earlier and could not stop thinking about it as we arduously made the trip to Seattle to deposit our grown boys at college and grad school. Perhaps I was trying to harken back to a time when they were little and we could enjoy these fantastical things together? I do think it was some kind of balm for my imminent empty-nester status. Regardless, as art is known to work, the trolls were a fun and enchanting diversion.
The Fremont Troll is a mixed-media gargantuan statue, located under the north end of the George Washington Memorial Bridge (also known as the Aurora Bridge). It is clutching an actual VW Beetle as if it had just swiped it from the roadway above. The vehicle has a California license plate. Made of steel rebar, wire, and concrete it was sculpted by four local artists: Steve Badanes, Will Martin, Donna Walter, and Ross Whitehead. The theme of a troll living under a bridge is derived from Scandinavian (mostly Norwegian) folklore.
Given my husband’s unwillingness to leave the car to see the Fremont Troll, I was doubtful he would oblige when I requested we make a short detour on our way back from dropping our boys in their new home. To my surprise, he cheerily joined me on my quest, all this to say, EVEN HE was delighted.
Where to Find Trolls Near Seattle
Dambo has been slowly releasing the exact locations of his trolls since the summer of 2023. His new Pacific Northwest trolls live in Portland, Issaquah, Ballard, West Seattle, as well as on Bainbridge and Vashon Islands.
The trolls are located on indigenous Coast Salish territories, and Dambo has been working with the Muckleshoot and Snoqualmie tribes. The artistic exchange is ongoing and artists have visited Dambo in Denmark to collaborate in the creative effort to take care of the planet.
And the word is out! Though it would be fun to come across them randomly and in peace, the trolls are truly spectacular and draw many gawkers.
Another troll in Dambo’s global oeuvre is especially poignant. “Hector El Protector” sits on a jetty on the island of Culebra, Puerto Rico holding a lantern. The original Hector was destroyed by Hurricane Maria but Dambo returned to rebuild the troll. Now Hector is outfitted with a solar-powered lantern alerting boats to the coastline, particularly during storms.
Dambo’s latest works will stand for at least three years, with the possibility of an extension. The six in the Pacific Northwest are part of a larger nationwide tour, which Dambo is documenting on his YouTube channel.
So gather the kids, make a special troll trip itinerary and visit as many as you can. These quirky works of public art can create a teachable moment about art, humanity, our climate and the joys of getting outdoors. You will be awed—and delighted—by the genius of this project.
A Complete List of Dambo’s Trolls Across the Pacific Northwest
- Ole Bolle lives at Nordic Northwest in Portland, Oregon.
- Pia the Peacemaker keeps the peace at Sakai Park on Bainbridge Island.
- Bruun Idun, the troll of West Seattle, plays a flute to orcas at the water’s edge.
- Frankie Feetsplinters peers out from his station in front of the National Nordic Museum in Seattle.
- Issaquah’s troll Jakob Two Trees was awakened in September 2023!
- Vashon Island’s troll, Oscar the Bird King, came alive in September 2023 as well.
Darya Mead – November 2023
Growing up in NYC and attending the UN International School gave Darya a head start as a global citizen. But her extensive travel and media experience now takes a back seat to raising two boys in San Francisco. Darya loves the outdoors, cooking, teaching yoga and the fact that her boys have taught her to be a sports fan. Follow her travels on Triporati.
© ROAM Family Travel 2023 – All rights reserved
A week - or weekend - of family fun
Rainforest, beaches & culture - without leaving the US
See secret gardens & endless waterfalls
The easiest family beach vacation in Southeast Asia
Poolside Palm Springs & Joshua Tree & more!
Granada, Seville, and Córdoba—and much more
From sea glass beaches to redwood forests
Poolside Palm Springs & Joshua Tree & more!
Pass the Outer Banks for the “Wright” Beach
Art! Architecture! Parks! Garlic fries!