Danish artist Thomas Dambo wants to save Breckenridge’s embattled trail troll
The life of Isak Heartstone
August — Danish artist Thomas Dambo crafts a 15-foot troll out of reclaimed wood about a mile up the Wellington Trail for the Breckenridge International Festival of Arts running Aug. 10-19. The artist names his work, “Isak Heartstone,” after children in the neighborhood gave the artist the gift of a heart-shaped stone and it was incorporated into the sculpture.
Oct. 9 — Homeowners in the Wellington neighborhood most affected by the heavy traffic going to see the troll ask Breckenridge Town Council to have the sculpture removed. The trail leading up to the troll runs only 20 yards or less behind some of their backyards, and they describe nonstop traffic, excessive noise, littering, illegal parking, safety issues and a profound loss of privacy, among other issues.
Oct. 23 — Town council decides 5-2 to keep the troll on the Wellington Trail over removing it against the homeowner’s wishes. In a subsequent vote, council also goes 4-3 in asking town staff continue looking into what it might take to relocate the troll.
Nov. 5 — In a special meeting built around an executive session for an unrelated topic, council brings up the troll under the agenda item, “other matters.” Although the troll had previously appeared on town council agendas by name, this time there was no mention of the sculpture.
Nov. 13 — Council discusses the troll again and, this time citing safety concerns, reverses course with a majority now wanting the troll off the Wellington Trail. Because the troll cannot be taken apart and put back together, it effectively means the end of the temporary art installation, as it’s known.
TBA — Crews will cut up and remove Isak Heartstone, preserving only a few key components of the sculpture in hopes for a “re-imagined” troll sometime in the future. The pieces that cannot be salvaged will be disposed of or recycled.
Danish artist Thomas Dambo took to social media Wednesday morning to dispute how Breckenridge officials have described his feelings following town council’s decision to remove the wood troll he built for a summer arts festival.
Dambo describes this and more in a reflective, 450-word post under the banner headline: “HELP ME SAVE ISAK HEARTSTONE.”
The artist crafted the 15-foot sculpture for the Breckenridge International Festival of Arts, which ended Aug. 19. The original plan was to leave the troll, an extraordinary reward for venturing into the woods, in place as long as he withstood the elements and wasn’t vandalized.
“I make these sculptures out of local scrap wood, with the help of local volunteers,” Dambo wrote, “to show the world how much potential and beauty lays hidden in our trash.”
The troll’s name came from some neighborhood children who gave the artist the gift of a heart-shaped stone. The sculpture was always meant to be temporary, but temporary in the world of public art installations can cover a wide range of time frames, measured in days, weeks, months or even years.
But Breckenridge Town Council decided to cut the troll’s lifespan short on Tuesday, largely citing public safety concerns. In October, a handful of homeowners most affected by the heavy traffic flocking to see the troll complained, but council was reluctant to remove the troll at the time.
On Tuesday, Councilman Jeffrey Bergeron explained his change of heart, saying he’s seen families with small children that probably shouldn’t have been on the trail out there, and a woman recently injured her shoulder going out to see the troll.
“I was there (Monday) and I saw a couple getting married at the troll,” Bergeron said. “The gal was probably about 8 months pregnant … but it could have been a whole different scenario if she had fallen.”
After Tuesday’s decision to remove the troll, town spokeswoman Haley Littleton issued a news release detailing the vote. In it, the town claimed Dambo was “aware of the challenges that have arisen due to the unexpected popularity of his artwork and feels the work has already accomplished great success in its current lifespan.”
But that’s not what the artist said Wednesday morning.
“I don’t think it’s jolly happy days that the sculpture is to be taken down after only three months, like some medias quoted me saying,” he wrote.
Some media outlets had quoted the town paraphrasing Dambo’s feelings and mistakenly attributed it to the artist himself.
Dambo added: “The integral structure of the sculpture is built to withstand three years in the local weather, so that cannot be an argument for taking it down.”
Responding to a question if the town is at all concerned the artist feels like he’s been mischaracterized, Littleton referred inquires to Breckenridge Creative Arts, which put on the summer arts festival and had Dambo build the troll for a $40,000 commission.
“We received that statement from BCA who has had all contact with the artist and (has) been the primary liaison,” Littleton wrote in an email. “I would defer to them for that situation/question.”
Shortly after the email, the town issued a statement, also posted on social media.
“We understand everyone’s concerns and have seen the commentary,” the statement reads. “The town of Breckenridge and Breckenridge Creative Arts are in communication with the artist in terms of safely deinstalling and storing the artwork with the possibility of a reinstall at a new location at an unknown future date.”
The town said a BCA assessment, which the town said was done in consultation with the artist, determined that, because of the materials and way Dambo made the sculpture, dismembering the troll and putting the sculpture back together somewhere else really isn’t an option.
While some “key components” of the sculpture will be salvaged and put into storage in hopes there might be some sort of “re-imagined troll sculpture in a new location sometime in the future,” what kind of form that sculpture might take be remains to be seen.
Inside, Isak Heartstone possesses a complex framework, as well as the hundreds of outer-layer wooden pieces lining his body like shingles on a roof. These pieces will have to be “cut and removed,” during the deinstallation process, leaving them unsuitable for any kind of reconstruction effort, BCA president and CEO Robb Woulfe told the Summit Daily via email.
Only a few key elements will be kept intact, Woulfe said. The town’s news release mentions the troll’s appendages as something that might be saved, but Littleton could not confirm Wednesday which pieces might be preserved, she said, until more details have been worked out.
The pieces of Isak Heartstone that can’t be preserved will go to “an appropriate disposal or recycling location,” Woulfe said.
The large stacked stones — or rock cairn — will be returned to the Stilson Lot from where they came. According to the town’s release, the sculpture will be removed as soon as possible, weather permitting.
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