Towering Trolls Keep a Watchful Eye on Morton Arboretum

In the age of Twitter, the idea of a troll isn’t all that appealing – but at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, some larger-than-life trolls have arrived not to spew hate, but to spread a message.

Their journey began in Copenhagen, where their hands, feet, and faces were brought to life in artist Thomas Dambo’s studio. From there, they went into a shipping container and crossed the Atlantic. They traveled from New Jersey to Chicago by train, and then out to Lisle by truck.

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“We opened the truck and unloaded all these key pieces, and then they assembled them on-site,” said Sarah Sargent, Morton Arboretum’s manager of interpretation and exhibits. “The volunteers helped build all of the fur, the skin, the details that you see.”

For eight weeks, 60 volunteers worked alongside the artist and his team, as well as arboretum staff, to put together six trolls, each designed with their location in mind. Visitors can discover the trolls as they go, or grab a map, visit each troll, and follow the clues to their “hideout,” a troll-scale campground of sorts designed for them to spend their evenings.

“If you’ve never been to the arboretum before, it’s a great way to explore the arboretum, because we’ve really spread them out over our 1,700 acres,” Sargent said. “If you’ve already been to the arboretum and you seek out all six trolls and the hideout, you might discover a corner that you’ve never been to before.”

The arboretum first saw Dambo’s work online and was inspired by his aesthetic “to build sculptures out of materials that other people would consider trash, (like) plywood that he gets from dumpsters, recycled wood, old pallets. We really liked the idea of the message of sustainability and environmentalism,” Sargent said. “But he also describes the trolls as guardians of the forest, and that really resonates with us.”

The trolls are already popular with visitors, and they make for a heck of a photo op. But they also have a healthy suspicion. They’re around to keep an eye on the arboretum’s grounds and make sure visitors are treating the trees with respect. So even if you’re just passing by on I-88, remember: you’re being watched.

The arboretum hopes the trolls stick around for two years (or even longer if their materials hold up against the elements). Find out more about Troll Hunt and related events on the arboretum’s website.

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