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  • Writer's pictureIldiko

Bernheim Forest's Gentle Giants

Updated: Jun 7, 2022

I love to hike in autumn. The air is finally cooler, the colors of the foliage are spectacular and the crisp, fallen leaves crackle beneath each step. So, I am always in search of a good hike! I set out with my son to Bernheim Forest in Clermont, KY ... about a 30-minute drive south of downtown Louisville. There, we entered the forest AND the home of three gentle Giants: Mama Loumari, Little Nis, and Little Elina! This troll mother and her two troll kids are part of a larger, WORLDWIDE fairytale story.

  • Mama Loumari, pregnant and tired, lays in the shade on the forest floor. She surrounds herself with her homey items that bring her comfort.

  • Little Nis, her son, sits on the shore of Olmsted Pond in Bernheim Arboretum and loves to stare at his reflection.

  • Little Elina, her daughter, sits alongside Lake Nevin and plays with her rocks.

One man's TRASH is another man's TREASURE!

Where did these trolls come from? This small family of giants is only three of NUMEROUS giants inhabiting the USA and the world, created by recycling artist, Thomas Dambo, shown in the picture above. He is a Danish artist living in Copenhagen, who creates GIANT trolls primarily from scrap pieces of lumber and fallen branches and twigs, ropes, and rocks. Dambo re-cycles and utilizes scrap wood and materials taken from wherever the trolls are being built, as they are actually built on site. For example, scraps of plywood that protected buildings from a hurricane in Puerto Rico were re-cycled to create 'Hector the Protector', shown below. Hector was made on the island of Culebra in Puerto Rico using pallets from the local junkyard.

Dambo has created about 80 troll installations worldwide, beginning in 2014. He installs these gentle giants, and giant they are with each measuring between 20-60 feet, in out-of-the-way parks and lesser-known greenspaces to serve as intrigue and to inspire people to get out of the house and draw them back to nature.

Since his childhood, Dambo always loved to scavenge and build. He later became a graffiti artist. His passion ultimately morphed into constructing birdhouses and now giant TROLLS.

Where do some other TROLLS live?

Not surprisingly many of his installations are scattered throughout Denmark and Belgium. Several exist in the USA in coastal Maine, Florida, Colorado, Wyoming, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, and even Puerto Rico. A few were installed in China and South Korea.

Dambo has plotted his installations on a Troll Map which shows the geopositioning of each of them and challenges nature's explorers to engage in a treasure hunt to find them. Take a look at this cool link to locate his "trash" trolls!

Below are just a few cameos from Dambo's motley crew of trolls WORLDWIDE.

Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest

Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest in Clermont, Kentucky is a philanthropic gift from Isaac Bernheim to Kentucky. Having immigrated to the USA from Germany in the mid-1800s, Bernheim was enormously grateful to the people of Kentucky for allowing him the opportunity to be successful in the bourbon distillery business. Clermont is in the midst of Bourbon Country! Bernheim's love for BOTH sculpture and nature was reflected in his philanthropy. He commissioned and donated STATUES of Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson to the City of Louisville and of Henry Clay (a Kentucky statesman) and Ephraim McDowell (a Kentucky pioneer surgeon) to the Statuary Hall in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington DC, both representing Kentucky. As for NATURE, he planned and financed the Bernheim Arboretum as a gift to Kentucky.

Frederick Law Olmsted, the renowned American landscape architect, designed the park and lakes for the arboretum. Bernheim's vision was to create a place where people can connect with nature. Today Bernheim Forest is a 600-acre arboretum with over 8000 varieties of trees, shrubs, and perennials. Forty miles of hiking trails exist within the park. Details of each trail can be accessed on the AllTrails app. This app is awesome, check it out!

We hiked four trails, ALL of which were categorically EASY. These were the Forest Giant Trail which is a 2.1-mile out-and-back. We also hiked Lake Nevin Loop (1.5 miles), Sun & Shade Loop (1.1 miles), and Two Ponds Loop (1.0 miles).

How Apropos ...

As I reflect on our day of hiking, it truly is spectacular that the vision of Isaac Bernheim with his LOVE for both sculpture and nature is now being directly reflected in Thomas Dambo's giant TROLL installations at Bernheim Arboretum. If Bernheim were alive today, I can only imagine how happy he would be to see so many Kentuckians and tourists communing with nature, enjoying his landscape, and interacting with Dambo's awesome TROLL sculptures! Bernheim and Dambo have a SHARED PASSION and VISION which makes them a fitting combination!

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