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Northwest Trolls: Way of the Bird King


Written June 19, 2023

Beginning in August 2023, a new six-site art exhibition entitled Northwest Trolls: Way of the Bird King will be unveiled. The unique project features six giant hand-built Nordic troll characters, designed by acclaimed Danish environmental artist and storyteller Thomas Dambo, to be installed at five locations in the Puget Sound region and one in Portland, Oregon. Scan Design Foundation is managing the collaborative effort with funding, media, and site partners from across the region.

“We are excited to showcase the creative ingenuity of Dambo’s work to Northwest audiences in this ambitious exhibition,” said Fidelma McGinn, president of Scan Design Foundation. “His message of turning trash into treasure and building community through art will resonate with all who experience his mystical troll sculptures.”

National Nordic Museum visitors will remember Dambo's Nordic Swan which graced the front entrance of the Museum from July 2022 through April 2023.

Dambo’s high level of creativity drives the creation of highly interactive experiences, turning recycled materials to immersive, interactive, and awe-inspiring art. Today, he is known internationally for his larger-than-life troll sculptures. With 100 sculptures all over the world, these trolls have begun to have a life of their own, inspiring “troll hunters” to seek them out and fulfill Dambo’s vision of creating art that inspires people to get outside to explore, have adventures, and protect our natural spaces. The Way of the Bird King will be the first Dambo trolls to be placed in the Pacific Northwest, linking this region to the worldwide phenomenon.

The project celebrates the human experience of art by amplifying the network of cultural heritage between Coast Salish tribal communities and Danish and Scandinavian traditions. It reinforces the shared values of environmental stewardship for watershed protection, restoration, and preservation of riparian habitats. Because the trolls will be located on traditional Coast Salish territories, the project is working closely with the Muckleshoot and Snoqualmie tribes.

As part of the project, a companion map and app will be released to engage the public in finding out precisely where each troll is located in Portland, Issaquah, Ballard, West Seattle and on Bainbridge and Vashon Islands. To capture the curiosity of the public and contain an element of surprise in discovering them through a scavenger hunt adventure, the specific site locations will only be revealed at the conclusion of each build process, between August 1 and September 17. The sculptures will be hosted at each site for at least three years.

Fashioned out of recycled materials, the large-scale public art installations tell a tale of protecting nature and honoring the land and waterways. With a focus on understanding the impact of humans on life in watersheds and animal habitats, the project includes a companion story focused on restoration and preservation of riparian habitats in an approachable, fun way. It provides opportunities for youth and adults alike to learn, support, and make a difference in protecting our environment.

“I want people to know that trash has value. My trolls do that, and also help me tell stories, like the legends I grew up with,” said Dambo. “In nature, there is no landfill. Nature is circular, everything has a meaning and everything is recycled.”

A key part of the troll installation is leveraging a community of local volunteers. For this project, over 200 volunteers will be dedicating their time to help complete the sculptures, from disassembling wooden pallets, cutting up wood pieces, screwing and hammering parts, to clearing brush and making meals for the crew.

Funding for the full exhibition series is provided by grants from Scan Design Foundation and the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. Additional sponsorship support has been provided by Alaska Air, Icelandair, National Foundation for Danish America, Republic Services, and Re-Use Consulting.

The site partners for the six sculptures include the City of Seattle Parks, City of Issaquah Parks, Vashon Parks District, Bainbridge Island Metro Parks District, National Nordic Museum and Nordic Northwest. Media partners include the Embassy of Denmark, Visit Seattle, Washington State Tourism and the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.

To learn more about Dambo's Way of the Bird King, please visit

Photo: Hector the Protector, 2nd version (2019)

For the history of Dambo's trolls, please see Nordic Kultur, "The Tale/Trail of the Thomas Dambo Trolls" by Dr. Lotta Gavel Adams.