Fe Fi Fo Fum: Giants move into Bernheim Forest

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By Kacie Goode


“If you love the forest, the trolls will protect you, if not they will grab you, catch you and trap you.”

Giants are lurking in Bernheim Forest and their presence sets out to inspire an international connection with nature.

In celebration of Bernheim’s 90th anniversary, a new art installation called Forest Giants in a Giant Forest is showing off the work of Danish artist Thomas Dambo who, with his team, has spent the last few weeks constructing the large creatures from recycled wood materials, much of which came from the local area.

“I want them to remember how big and beautiful the nature around here in Bernheim Arboretum is,” Dambo said of what he hopes people will think when they see his creatures. “When they dive a little bit closer into the story, I want them to understand that this is all made of trash, but that trash can be so big and so beautiful.”

Bernheim alluded to the creation of the giants several weeks ago, and many have followed the progress on Facebook waiting for their official arrival. On Wednesday, some received a look at the first completed giant, which Dambo calls Little Nis.

“We came out here to see this guy. We were really excited to hear they had finished one,” said Erin Warmbier, of Louisville, who had been following the project’s announcement on social media. “I love it. I think it’s really cool and it’s everything I had hoped it would be.”

Warmbier brought her five children, Aiven, Ezra, Margot, June and Penny, to see the sculpture, and they ran around the creature’s arms and feet. Warmbier said she likes that much of the art incorporated into Bernheim invites interaction.

“That is definitely a bonus in having active, playful children in a place like this, where they can engage with it,” she said.

Warmbier and other families made the trip out to Bernheim Wednesday with the intent of seeing the sculptures, and forest officials hope others will do the same, in addition to the visitors who stumble upon the creations by accident.

The trio of giants is not alone in the world. The three at Bernheim are part of an “international fairy tale” about mankind’s struggle with coexistence, Dambo said.

Dambo’s creations, which are also called trolls in his projects, can be found in various places around the world. He has constructed more than three dozen in places such as The Morton Arboretum in Chicago, as well as The Great Smoky Mountains, Copenhagen and South Korea. He recently returned from Puerto Rico, where he has been working to rebuild Hector El Protector, one of his earlier sculptures destroyed by Hurricane Maria. When Dambo leaves Kentucky, he will head to Belgium and then to China to create more.

Dambo was inspired to create the giants from the stories he loved as a child.

“I come from Copenhagen in Denmark and we have a long, strong culture of folklore stories and Nordic mythology,” many of which include trolls, he said. “All these fairy tales and type of adventures, I always liked these things as a kid.”

The trolls and giants in the stories could be good or bad, Dambo said, “depending on how the humans behave.”

Dambo also comes from a background in graffiti and street art and is used to incorporating the landscape into his designs. Little Nis, for example, sits at the edge of the pond on Two Ponds Loop and appears to be looking at his reflection in the water.

In addition to using the sculptures to inspire a connection with nature, preservation and sustainability, Dambo hopes to also inspire people to awaken their curiosity of the world around them.

“I think a lot of us are stuck inside the urban jungle and we never leave that,” he said. People often find themselves confined to a triangle where they go from work to the shopping mall to home. “And if we leave the confinements of the triangle, it is to go on vacation and then we believe we have to go all the way to another place to see something new.”

But that isn’t reality, he said. Beauty, excitement and adventure can be found at home.

“We just never look on the other side of the fence or go a little bit deeper into the forest. We always stay on the path and in our routines,” he said. “I hope my trolls can help people come on this journey where they can find something new and they can see something different.”

Visit thomasdambo.com to learn more about his work as well as other troll and giant creations and the narratives provided for each. Follow Bernheim at www.bernheim.org for upcoming events and announcements regarding the forest.

Bernheim officials anticipate the giants to be in place for at least three years and they will be incorporated into future programs. While one giant was finished Wednesday, the other two are well on their way to completion. When visiting, the public is asked to treat the creatures with care.


Giants add to Bernheim’s long history of using art to connect with nature

Three giant sculptures being created by Danish artist Thomas Dambo have gained noticeable public attention on social media, but the new additions are only part of Bernheim Forest’s extensive history in using art to connect people with nature.

Work on “The Forest Giants in a Giant Forest” began about two weeks ago and Dambo formally unveiled the completion of the first giant, Little Nis, to media outlets on Wednesday. The other two sculptures, all made from recycled wood materials, will be completed before the end of the month.

“In our 90th anniversary, we wanted to do something big and that’s why we brought in Thomas Dambo,” said Bernheim’s Executive Director Dr. Mark Wourms, who is just as excited for the sculptures’ completion as the public.

“The imagery online has been viral, but it’s nothing like experiencing them yourself,” he said. “It’s a wonderful feeling of whimsy and mystery and creativity and art. There’s a little piece in the back of everyone’s mind that says ‘I’m still a child’ and these bring that out in everyone. That’s why they appeal from the youngest to the oldest.”

It’s that connection with people for which forest founder Isaac W. Bernheim strived when he purchased the land in 1929. He wanted Bernheim to be a place to discover the beauty of nature and artwork could pull people in.

“They get these deeper messages about how they can engage in nature and how they can do things in their home and in their yards that will help us mitigate climate change and be healthier populations as well,” Wourms said of what some of the art is meant to convey.

When it comes to The Forest Giants in a Giant Forest, the installation provides Bernheim a narrative to stress the importance of its 16,137 privately held acres, used for conservation and education.

“In this case, we are going to be able to talk about the huge size of Bernheim and why forest blocks are so important to water quality, to air quality, to the survival of biological species, from the tiniest snails all the way up to, in our case, golden eagles,” Wourms said.

The Giants are the third Sited@Bernheim site-specific art project the forest has hosted since 2012. The first project, Snake Hollow by Patrick Dougherty, featured an interactive sculpture made from willow saplings, which stood at the Visitor Center from April 2012 to November 2013. The second project, Earth Measure, was built by Louisville sculptor Matt Weir in October of 2012 and is a permanent art installation in the Big Prairie.

In addition to these Sited@Bernheim projects, the forest has also hosted artists in residencies for 39 years, inviting artists to temporarily live at the forest and create. The program has brought in painters, sculptors, architects, sound artists, photographers any many others from around the world to Kentucky.

And their work can, on occasion, bring in new visitors to the area, Wourms said, which has the potential to boost the local economy as they explore other offerings in the region, from wine and bourbon, to dining, historic site visits and shopping.

“We are very proud of the fact that Bernheim is an economic boom to this area. That we are an eco-tourism center, and because of that, we diversify this economy,” he said.

With the addition of the giants, forest officials hope to see an influx of visitors coming out to see the sculptures and discover what else the area has to offer. And for those who stumble upon the creations by accident, Wourms hopes they will be inspired.

“Art is a way to surprise people when they’re out here in our forest or in our meadow. It’s a way to inspire people to look again, understand what are they seeing and why are they seeing it. Art can convey some powerful messages, and that is very exciting to us.”