When the giant wooden troll first came to Jackson there was amazement, whimsical wonder and more than a little fear from some of the areas smaller kiddos. Trolls eat people, right?
This she-troll was dubbed “Mama Mimi” when it took form in May 2021, a project of Jackson Hole Public Art. The massive outdoor sculpture is one of more than 100 created by highly acclaimed recycling artist Thomas Dambo.
And rather than repulse, this timber terror hits different. Gobsmacked kids and adults alike flock to the feature at a popular local park outside of Jackson.
Dambo’s giant wooden trolls have been installed all over the world, many in his home country of Denmark. But installations can also be spotted across the United States, throughout Europe and in China, Puerto Rico and Australia.
Repurposed wood pallets make up the bulk of Mimi’s body with some stone and steel structural elements. The figure’s necklace is made of stones and rope; the hair is comprised of driftwood roots.
Mimi sits riverside in Rendezvous Park (“R” Park) 6 miles west of the town of Jackson off Highway 390. The 40-acre public space is a project of the Jackson Hole Land Trust, which helped reclaim the former industrial site along the Snake River in 2015.
All day and all night, rain or shine or snow, Mimi can be found lounging about, her leg casually draped over a small channel of the pond at R Park. It is a popular place for kids to explore, fish or work on their kayaking and paddleboard skills. Or, just cool off on a warm summer day.
Dambo’s troll series seemed to Carrie Geraci like a perfect fit for R Park.
Research by the director of Teton County’s only nonprofit for the arts convinced Geraci that Dambo’s work would dovetail nicely with the Land Trust’s vision for the conservation property — an impactful piece of art that might inspire people to fully indulge in outdoor exploration and adventure while also being cognitive of environmental issues.
“I recall when R Park was first being planned there were discussions about a temporary artwork that might meet a certain criterion and fit in with the ethos of Jackson Hole,” Geraci said. “Around 2019, as R Park was heading toward its fifth anniversary and the Land Trust toward a significant milestone as well (40th anniversary in 2020), we started conversations about something really special.”
Geraci sold the Land Trust on Dambo. He was brought in from his home in Copenhagen for a site visit. The 44-year-old artist found inspiration and the perfect spot to put his first Wyoming troll.
“He loved the teeny little island where he envisioned her foot would rest on,” Geraci said. “An outstretched leg that could provide passage across the water for kids who dared scramble over. He really loved the playful interactive aspect of that.”
The space itself is a passive outdoor recreation park located in a pristine wetlands area on the banks of the Snake River. The river is channeled into a pond that serves as a natural public “swimming pool” for visitors.
The pond is a favorite place for locals and visitors to spend a few hours on a hot summer day. It is stocked every spring, so the fishing is usually pretty good.
The art installation is in a perfect spot, tucked just around the corner out of sight of most beachfront blankets around the pond. Mimi can be accessed on foot through a wooded trail or by water.
It is these types of semi-secluded spots that Dambo says he favors. Places where a giant wooden sculpture, like a troll, could hide until happened upon ... magically. It makes the experience more organic and more powerful.
The Power Of Place
“R Park was reclaimed from an industrial gravel pit to fuse exploration, nature, and conservation,” said the park’s director, Junior Rodriguez. “Thomas Dambo’s installations mirror that fusion with the incorporation of reused material and a sense of place through imaginative storytelling and unexpected location.
“We’re excited to host a sculpture that takes that wonder to the next level.”
Poised for groundbreaking in 2019, Land Trust President Laurie Andrews signed off on the project. Money was committed. The ball was rolling.
And then the pandemic.
By early 2021, the project was revived in fits and starts. Andrews had moved on. New Land Trust President Max Ludington carried the torch, but fundraising had to begin anew.
Plus, Dambo and his team were now busy with another troll installation, “Guardians of the Seeds,” in Maine.
“Coming out of the pandemic we were making fundraising calls that began with, ‘How would you like to help bring a troll to Jackson Hole?’” Geraci chuckled. “But maybe it was just the kind of levity our community needed at the time.”
The Troll Has Landed
With funding secured, Dambo’s arrival to Wyoming had to be rescheduled several times in 2021. At one point, he and his whole team had contracted COVID.
Finally, a 10-day window was identified. Dambo arrived and got right to work. With his team and a group of four committed locals, Mama Mimi began to take shape as a decidedly female troll.
“Some aspects of the installation had to be revealed ahead of time. The scale, for instance, in order for us to have proper counterweights and [engineering] things like that in place,” Geraci said. “But we did not know the gender until Thomas showed up. He works very intuitively with the site, but I think he knew right away when he got started it would be female.”
Perhaps the maternal nature of Jackson’s troll better invites littles to crawl all over her.
And that is just the point with any of Dambo’s troll artworks. They are an invitation for a hands-on encounter and a chance for youngsters to see the mythical fiend of the woods as a bit more approachable in the 21st century.
Certainly, the successful movie franchise “Trolls” has also helped in the “Gentling of Woodland Giants” marketing campaign.
All of Dambo’s creations are repurposed scrap wood or trash of some kind.
For his Jackson installation, Dambo called upon several volunteer students from nearby Red Top Meadows. The residential treatment and therapeutic wilderness program established in 1980 serves adolescent males in need of a bit of redirection.
Red Top residents deconstructed hundreds of pallets so Dambo and his crew could get right to work when they arrived. The install team travels with the main parts — a finished head and other detailed work — and then locally harvests twigs, branches and scrap wood to finish the sculpture.
In Jackson, a paid group made up of firefighters, resort workers and others came together for the build. They were also given the Thomas Dambo crash course in troll maintenance and perform routine tune-ups on Mimi when necessary.
All too soon the beloved piece will have to come down. Every work comes with a life expectancy, and Mimi will be removed from R Park sometime before the end of 2026.
However brief, the second life for Mimi’s discarded wood parts that would otherwise have been burned will bring joy to countless thousands in the years she awaits quietly pondside for her next encounter. It already has.
Dambo plans to install several more artworks in the U.S. next summer. The Danish artist also has released a few coffee table books and recently introduced a fun worldwide scavenger hunt of troll locations online.