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Forest Giants at Bernheim Forest

A new art installation at the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest is gaining a lot of attention.

“90 years ago, when Isaac Wolf Bernheim gifted this land to the people of Kentucky, he wanted it to be a place where people could come and reside in nature with art,” says Visual Arts Manager Jenny Zeller. “For our 90th anniversary, we wanted to celebrate that, and so we commissioned Thomas Dambo, internationally renowned recycling artist, to come to Bernheim and build three giant sculptures inspired by this landscape.”

Dambo is a Danish artist who travels around the world building giant sculptures that he calls a fairytale of trolls. “I’ve done 43 of these creatures so far and now I’m here in the Bernheim Arboretum making another three,” says Dambo. “It’s a mother called Mama Loumari, then a baby girl called Little Elina, and a little boy called Little Nis.”

Dambo aims to incorporate his trolls into the landscape in ways that make them come alive. “When I have to decide where my trolls they live, I try to imagine that if I was a troll, what would I do if I were here?” he says. “I would maybe sit and lean against this tree, or I would look in this pond, and I think it’s nice that my creatures are interacting with the real world because by doing that they seem more alive. You could also put a troll inside a museum or on top of a pedestal and that would make it look more dead. And I’m aiming for having alive sculptures.”

As a recycling advocate, Dambo uses materials that would otherwise be considered trash to build his art. “Here we’re building from whiskey barrels, we’re building from pallets, old slugger bats,” he says. “The horn of my dragon is made of an old discarded slugger bat, and then we’re also building from trees that fell in the ice storm last year.”

“For [Dambo] to be able to pull off these monumentally sized sculptures, he needs to have people helping,” Zeller explains. “He has a crew in Denmark. There’s a team of maybe 15 people and so depending on who’s available for what projects, certain members will go. And this wouldn’t be possible without volunteer help as well. We’ve had 240 slots of volunteer availability and we have filled them up.

“With Forest Giants in a Giant Forest, people are coming to Bernheim for the art and are discovering all these wonderful things about Bernheim as a result,” Zeller adds. “We feel like that’s going to have great potential to motivate our community to see the importance of art in a natural environment.”

“I hope that when a family or a young couple or whoever will see the project, I hope they will take away from it that it’s worth it to leave your screen or your house and go out and experience nature,” says Dambo. “I hope that they will remember that nature is sacred and beautiful and that you can build big and amazing things from trash and ultimately remember to take care of the world we are all sharing.”

This segment is part of Kentucky Life episode #2413, which originally aired on April 20, 2019. Watch the full episode.