These days, Texans are more likely to encounter trolls on the internet (or at the Capitol) than in a forest or under a bridge. But starting this March, they’ll have a chance to meet the oversized, folkloric kind in Austin’s Pease Park.
Since 2013, Danish artist Thomas Dambo has turned discarded pallets, scrap lumber, and twigs into more than 120 enormous wooden trolls that lurk in parks around the globe. Actually, “lurk” isn’t the best word—these giants are the gentle sort, with friendly faces and Scandinavian charm that have earned them a cult following. The Austin sculpture is Dambo’s first Texas troll, and it’ll occupy a wooded alcove in Pease Park, just northwest of downtown.
Dambo has already assembled the creature’s head, hands, and feet at his studio in Denmark; they’re now on their way to Texas via a shipping container. The rest of the structure will be built with recycled wood from Harvest Lumber, which mills cut or fallen trees from around the city. Even boards from a dismantled tower at the University of Texas’s J. J. Pickle Research Campus, in North Austin, will be incorporated into the sculpture.
Nicole Netherton, the Pease Park Conservancy CEO, said that Dambo’s warm, welcoming style matches the mission of the park. “So much of the message Dambo is sending with these larger-than-life sculptures is about finding joy in nature and experiencing something magical when you’re spending time outside,” she said.
The troll will occupy a secluded spot north of the Kingsbury Commons section of the 84-acre public green space. The conservancy worked with city officials to make sure the sculpture, which will remain at the site for at least fifteen years, will have minimal environmental impact. “It’s in a part of the park that gets a lot of use already,” Netherton said.
Dambo, a former rap musician and graffiti artist who once built and quietly distributed dozens of wooden birdhouses across Denmark, will arrive in Austin in late February to start his work. Construction is expected to take about two weeks. “It’s all about minimizing the environmental impact, and making something fun and beautiful out of trash,” Netherton said.
Funding for the project, which is expected to cost about $350,000, comes solely from private donors. Among them are philanthropists and longtime Austin residents Lynne Dobson and Greg Wooldridge, whose Tejemos Foundation helped pay for a popular tree house at Pease Park. Dobson and Wooldridge proposed bringing a troll to Austin after seeing five of Dambo’s creations at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay, Maine, in August 2022. “I went, ‘Okay, this has to be at Pease,’ ” Dobson said. “This troll has Austin’s personality and playfulness, and we need whimsy and delight in our lives right now.” Approval to build the sculpture came after an extensive community engagement and review process with the city.
But not everyone appreciates Dambo’s trolls, or the crowds they draw. In 2018, a fifteen-foot Dambo troll named Isak Heartstone, built in Breckenridge, Colorado, created a stir when visitors began streaming into the area to snap pictures with the art. Locals complained about traffic and trash. The troll was eventually dismantled (the photos of his decapitation aren’t for the faint of heart) and, happily, reassembled at a permanent home on a trail near the town’s welcome center.
Before approving the Austin project, the conservancy gathered public input from around 1,500 survey respondents. About 85 percent of the feedback was supportive, but a few folks argued that Austin is no place for a Nordic troll. “Shoal Creek is not troll habitat,” read one comment on the conservancy’s Facebook page. “Texas has no cultural tradition of trolls. It makes no sense to plop a troll into Pease Park,” wrote another skeptic, adding that “Pease Park is not a Danish forest.” Others argued that money used to fly Dambo to Austin could be better spent to support local artists struggling to afford the city’s high cost of living.
Pease already works with local artists and talent on much of its programming, Netherton said, and local volunteers will help with the troll’s construction: “There’s room for lots of different types of artwork in a city as vibrant and diverse as Austin.” Besides, Dobson says, trolls are stewards of the environment and should feel right at home in crunchy Austin. “Dambo’s quirky, the trolls are quirky, and Austin is quirky,” she said.
Netherton urges anyone planning a visit to peruse the Troll FAQ page on the conservancy’s website. Parking can be tight at Pease Park, which might pose a challenge if the troll draws big crowds, but the installation will be located near a four-hundred-space parking garage at Austin Community College and a surface lot with one hundred spaces at the Austin Recreation Center.