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  • Sage Lamott, Staff Writer

Trolls in Portland? A look at the Nordic Center’s cultural art

Statue of a troll. Photo by Sage Lamott

Ole Bolle, the giant 19-foot troll of the Portland Nordic Center, holds a very special place in the hearts of many. Invented by Danish sculpture artist Thomas Dambo, the giant lives in Fogelbo, peeping into the historic Nordic house that rests just beyond the grounds of the main Nordia House. Tall trees frame the red onlooker house that the troll statue looks into. Allegedly based on a poem, the troll is peering into the vacant window of the red, cottage-like house to locate a cookie jar. With large eyes and a body made of wood paneling, he looms over the small shape.

The Nordic Center describes the troll’s creation on its website: “Drawing inspiration from historic Fogelbo and the traditional ‘stugas,’ designs were planned, and preparations were made over a few short months.” The troll and its surrounding exhibit pieces were completed in about 10 days, and on Aug. 17, 2023, “After over 438 hours of work by 93 volunteers, Nordic Northwest welcomed our new troll.” 

The Troll is housed at the Portland Nordic Center, Nordic Northwest. Nordic Northwest is a Pacific Northwest non-profit organization that aspires to preserve the history of the Nordic nations. The center consists of a few key buildings. The central Nordia house is crafted with the shapes and textures of Viking ships, dense forests and the movement of water. Grand doors open to two central exhibit halls, space for activity and collaboration, a Swedish cafe, and a gift shop selling Nordic mythology-related goods. 

Artist Dambo describes the troll on his website: “His name is Ole-Bolle and it originates from an old Danish troll song. Both Ole and the house are entirely built of reclaimed wood and old pallets, and you can find and visit him for free in the garden behind Nordia House in Portland, Oregon.” 

Ole Bolle was built as part of a six-installment art series of Nordic statues across the Pacific Northwest, titled “Northwest Trolls: The Way of the Bird King.” Dambo has also successfully crafted trolls in Bainbridge Island, West Seattle, Issaquah, Ballard, and Vashon. Created entirely by Thomas and a small army of volunteers, the trolls are crafted with an environmental stance in mind. Each of these projects utilizes recycled materials, reflecting the project's dedication to environmental responsibility. For Dambo, preserving Nordic history requires preserving natural resources.

The work was created with the support of Nordic Northwest and the Scan Design Foundation. Created by a couple hailing from Denmark, the foundation strives to incorporate Scandinavian architecture specifically into the furnishings of homes in the Pacific Northwest. In addition to pursuing cultural exchange, their organization also focuses on educational opportunities in the form of internships or study abroad opportunities relating to their mission. Aligning with environmental sustainability and the awareness that Dambo emphasizes, the Scan Design Foundation supports creating artwork sustainably. Having supported the creation of not only Ole Bolle but all of the other PNW trolls, the foundation values their connection to Dambo. 

Ole Bolle brings light to the Nordic Center through craft, playfulness, and a sense of whimsy. According to the organization’s website, “[The troll] provides opportunities for youth and adults to learn, support, and make a difference in our environment. The trolls are visiting the Pacific Northwest from Denmark because they desire to help the little people: humans.​”

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Apr 03

Great information. Well written, educational. Place I plan on visiting due to story!

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