Artist turns recycled pallets into a whimsical sculpture in Jackson Hole
JACKSON — Where once there were pebbles, now sits an enormous troll.
The recycled wooden sculpture, now lounging in Rendezvous Park, is the brainchild of Copenhagen artist Thomas Dambo, who has built trolls all over the world.
Their whimsical construction beckons spectators to clamber aboard, and in the case of R Park, serves as a bridge to ferry the fun from the park to a nearby miniature island.
Dambo named the Jackson Hole troll “Mama Mimi,” for her motherly guidance (plus Mimi is a “good, strong” Scandinavian name).
“I’m super happy with it,” the artist said of his 80th piece. “It was nice to have a good time to really bust a high quality one out.”
Mimi is one of the few female trolls in Dambo’s small army, and apart from Runde Rie’s rope swing (hidden near Roskilde, tucked in a northern Denmark fjord) she’s the first one to interact so closely with water.
Even though it’s just a few feet up, crossing over on her extended leg can feel precarious, and if you glance back at her you just might topple into the water in fright. Her plywood visage is as tall as a human and you could almost imagine her gobbling one up if her expression wasn’t so serene.
Mimi’s face and feet were assembled at the artist’s Denmark workshop, but everything else was mapped out and assembled on site. Her hair, for instance, is made entirely of driftwood roots Dambo and his crew found washed up on the banks of the Snake River. Instantly charmed by the gnarled wood, Dambo said it gives Mimi a bit of an ’80s vibe.
Found objects are always part of the process — a way of practicing Dambo’s MO: eat the fruit that falls on your lawn.
Rather than buy lumber that’s been shipped across the country, just use the leftover pallets from Osprey Beverages, saving them from the dumpster.
In that vein, Mimi’s signature stone necklace was sourced from the river and one team member who offered up an old oversized rope as a band. The spirit of collaboration is not only essential to each troll’s creation — it’s also where Dambo has the most fun.
“My favorite thing (about) traveling and working like this is that we get to meet the real people and have a real barbecue with real game that those people shot.”
This month he and two builders from Puerto Rico, Mark Rivera and Sebastian Figueroa, worked alongside youth from the Red Top Meadows treatment program and Jackson carpenters like Nathaniel Hagood, who the artist learned everyone calls “Lipstick,” after a gnarly ski fall put a branch through his lip.
The artist’s team was nourished with donated pizza, bagels from Pearl Street Bagels and Mexican fare from Hatch and Picas. They even stayed in town long enough to catch the opening night of the rodeo, which Dambo described as “standing down by the fence and having a beer with some locals while guys were falling off the animals.”
The sculptor has now moved on, finally taking some time to honeymoon with his wife, but his gift to the valley, Mama Mimi, will remain here for years to come, greeting floaters, tourists and moose who frequent the park.
Fundraising and coordination for the troll was handled through Jackson Hole Public Art, and the spot was offered up by the Jackson Hole Land Trust, which oversees R Park.
“The power of temporary artwork is that it enables you to see a site, a property, a space, through new eyes,” said Carrie Geraci, founder and executive director of JH Public Art.
“Thomas’ trolls are designed to protect the environment where they’re placed. And, by getting people out enjoying nature, they become more attached to these beautiful spaces and hopefully think about conservation differently.”
Elizabeth Symchych King witnessed Mimi’s construction and said the crew “really gave you an idea of the scale of her.”
Her friend described the troll as “simultaneously unexpected and integrated into the landscape.”
In response to concerns that the troll might cause a traffic jam (as trolls tend to do), King wrote on Facebook: “We might as well have troll jams in addition to moose jams. It is such a great addition to the park.”
The location was chosen to avoid disrupting sensitive R Park wetlands and wildlife habitat, according to Geraci, who said Public Art and the Land Trust have been planning for this installation since 2019.
Set back a quarter mile or so from the bridge, Mimi won’t be collecting any toll money from travelers, but she did cost a pretty penny: roughly $50,000 raised by an army of #Trollbackers, plus another $50,000 from private donors.
Geraci said “that’s really not very much money for a large-scale, internationally renowned artist to come to Jackson Hole.”
The sculptor is still working out a legendary backstory for Mimi — something he likes to ascribe to each creature he leaves behind — but in the meantime he’s reminded of a Danish phrase that guides his work.
“En mands guld er en anden mands lommeuld,” or “one man’s gold is another man’s pocket fur” (read: lint).
Turning trash into treasure can depend on finding the right people, purpose and place.
“That’s how this sculpture came to be,” the sculptor said. “A lot of people came together and brought some different materials and some different skills and some different energies, and then those things together became a big treasure for the whole community.”
Dambo’s whimsical creatures live all over the world, from Puerto Rico to South Korea. You can find routes to all of them at TrollMap.com.