Hundreds clamored together Sunday, Sept. 17 at the ribbon cutting and grand opening of Oscar the Bird King, the giant troll constructed by Danish artist Thomas Dambo and a small army of 70 volunteers.
Almost as if Oscar himself was holding court, the crowds gathered in upper Point Robinson Park to bask in The Bird King’s presence, with many posing or taking photos.
The Bird King’s Court
Oscar the Bird King is one of six trolls created and sequestered around the Pacific Northwest by Dambo in his “Way of The Bird King” project. Dambo has constructed more than 100 such sculptures and tucked them away in outdoor locations around the world.
A fixture of Scandinavian folklore, stories of trolls feature the giant humanoids as isolationist figures living atop mountains or deep in the woods.
Of the six local trolls built by Dambo, The Bird King is “the most complicated and the most magnificent,” said Fidelma McGinn, president of the Seattle-based Scan Design Foundation and project director for the overall troll project in the Pacific Northwest. It’s also the eponymous figure in the story behind the “Way of The Bird King” series.
Sitting more than 20 feet tall, Oscar is located in a grove at upper Point Robinson, speckled by sunlight filtered through the trees. His beard is a twisting thicket of madrone branches, and his crown features birdhouses, as do stakes driven into the ground surrounding his court.
And then there are Oscar’s eyes — no matter where you stand, the troll seems to be watching you, stern yet thoughtful.
The Bird King, in Dambo’s storytelling, is a character admonishing humans to be good stewards of their environment, McGinn said. Oscar’s finger points downward toward the earth and viewers, challenging them to personally reflect on their role in the environment.
“Ever since I was a little boy, I’ve loved trash,” Dambo said during a presentation on Sept. 12 at the Vashon Center for the Arts.
Trash is free and ubiquitous, so it became an early creative building block for Dambo, he said. From broken bottles to books, bicycles and bags, Dambo found new life for old discarded things.
That passion flowered as an artistic mission to create sculptures out of trash and recycled materials all around the world, expressing his dream of “saving the world from drowning in trash,” Dambo said.
Blood, sweat and trolls
Cheryl Lubbert, co-chair of the Vashon Chamber of Commerce board of directors, said the construction of the troll is a reflection of the community’s cooperation — from volunteer labor to the business donations to the work of many organizations such as the Park District, the Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust, Vashon Center for the Arts and the Chamber.
“How perfect is this for Vashon? A troll, using recycled materials … thinking about the environment and carrying a really important message,” Lubbert said in a speech announcing Oscar’s completion.
The regional cluster of towering new trolls explores the play between myths from the Coast Salish tribal communities and Danish and Scandinavian traditions, according to the Scan Design Foundation.
“What was really interesting about this project was to place his work in situ in the environment, where anybody could come across these fabulous sculptures and enjoy them,” McGinn said.
Labor and in-kind donations from the community and local businesses brought The Bird King across the finish line, said Lynann Politte, the project director for the Vashon troll specifically.
“The generosity of our community, in terms of money and time, was really heartwarming and totally overwhelming,” Politte said.
Also in attendance at the ribbon cutting and speaking were county council member Joe McDermott and Vashon Park District Executive Director Elaine Ott-Rocheford.
By the numbers: The Bird King and his nearby decorations were constructed using 275 recycled wood pallets; 26 logs, each 18 feet long and 18 to 24 inches in diameter; and many pounds of recycled wood and other materials.
Extra logs allowed the team to build more than 200 birdhouses and benches, also with the help of volunteers.
The result? An adoring crowd, including small children scampering around the perimeter of Oscar’s perch; their doting parents; and other islanders and visitors to the island from all walks of life.
Erin Seymour, a young person visiting the troll from Kitsap County, mused on Dambo’s larger body of work — monumental trolls tucked away in public places all over the world.
“It’s really neat because they’re in an environment, but they also are the environment,” she said.
Elder Holt and Elder Black, two Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints missionaries serving on Vashon, also expressed their awe and admiration for the sculpture.
“It is way cool that [Dambo] chose this community for the King,” said Black. Gazing around the grove, he added, “This is going to be a place of many community gatherings.”