5 things to know about the Morton Arboretum's giant trolls

  • The "Troll Hunt" exhibit by Danish artist Thomas Dambo opens Friday at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle with the official unveiling of six giant wooden sculptures. "The craftsmanship is extraordinary," said Pam Titzer, an arboretum visitor from La Grange.

      The "Troll Hunt" exhibit by Danish artist Thomas Dambo opens Friday at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle with the official unveiling of six giant wooden sculptures. "The craftsmanship is extraordinary," said Pam Titzer, an arboretum visitor from La Grange. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 6/20/2018 11:50 AM

A cast of mythical characters has made Lisle's Morton Arboretum their new domain, and they're an imposing bunch.

As one of the six giant trolls who now lay claim to the arboretum landscape at 4100 Route 53, Rocky Bardur provides the muscle for the group. The boulder he's lifting overhead and the crushed car below his towering frame tell you exactly how he feels about gas-guzzlers.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The arboretum officially belongs to Rocky and his tribe starting Friday with the opening of "Troll Hunt," a new exhibit by Danish artist Thomas Dambo.

If you're eagerly waiting to come face-to-face with these guardians of the forest, we thought a few fun tidbits about their construction would help pull back the curtain on the mischievous creatures.

1. Watchful eye

With his wild mane of hair, Joe the Guardian commands his perch above the Reagan Memorial Tollway. Dambo intentionally built the troll on the stark dividing line between the natural wonder of the arboretum and the concrete jungle of the tollway and surrounding office parks.

But in a perfect case of serendipity befitting a troll tale, Joe happens to be focusing his gaze in the direction of the Illinois Tollway headquarters on the other side of I-88.

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Sarah Sargent, the arboretum's manager of interpretation and exhibits, likes to think Joe would approve of a new endeavor with the tollway to plant 58,000 trees along its road system.

The crafty one in the troll tribe, Sneaky Socks Alexa, sets a "trap" for the humans who harm their natural habitats.
  The crafty one in the troll tribe, Sneaky Socks Alexa, sets a "trap" for the humans who harm their natural habitats. - Bev Horne | Staff Photographer
2. Smashing time

The Ford Focus ZX4 at the foot of Rocky Bardur originally was headed to the scrap pile until its previous owner, an arboretum employee, turned over the keys to Dambo for his installation near the arboretum's entrance.

The troll isn't really doing the heavy lifting. Dambo and his crew used a bulldozer to drop a huge rock on the car, painted an eye-popping yellow for the exhibit.

Check out the Instagram post of the spectacle at Dambo's account, because who doesn't want to see rocks pulverizing stuff?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Rocky Bardur is a troll who would rather crush a car than drive one.
  Rocky Bardur is a troll who would rather crush a car than drive one. - Bev Horne | Staff Photographer
3. Boulder story

The rock that settled on the crushed car was a holdover from a restoration project along the shores of the East Branch of the DuPage River that winds through the arboretum.

Thomas Dambo of Denmark is the man behind the Troll Hunt exhibit opening Friday at the Morton Arboretum.
  Thomas Dambo of Denmark is the man behind the Troll Hunt exhibit opening Friday at the Morton Arboretum. - Bev Horne | Staff Photographer
4. How they got here

For the eight weeks of his artist residency, the outdoor museum became a studio for Dambo, his crew and arboretum volunteers. They built the trolls on-site with the exception of the faces, hands and feet.

To keep the project on schedule, those detailed pieces were assembled in Dambo's Copenhagen studio and transported in shipping containers from Europe to New Jersey, then by train to rail yards outside of Chicago and finally by truck to the arboretum.

Niels Bragger peeks out from behind a tree in the woods.
  Niels Bragger peeks out from behind a tree in the woods. - Brian Hill | Staff Photographer
5. One man's trash

Dambo is a resourceful and environmentally-conscious artist who creates sculptures out of wood he recycles from garbage heaps.

Sterling Lumber provided some of the building materials for "Troll Hunt" with a sizable donation -- the equivalent of more than 350 old wooden pallets -- that met Dambo's recycling standards.

The company, based in south suburban Phoenix, also used a cleaning process to rid the wood of any invasive seeds or insects.

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