All kinds of creatures live at the botanical gardens and arboretum. We can now count a troll among them, thanks to students in assistant professor Osman Khan’s Contemporary Sculpture 260 class in the Stamps School of Art & Design. Last fall they constructed a 10-foot-tall replica of the fright-wigged and bug-eyed troll doll originally created by Danish woodcutter Thomas Dam in 1959.

The troll measured approximately
13 feet high when finished.

The project challenged the students on several levels, says Khan. First, it exposed them to how the object being sculpted changes or stays relevant for today’s society, he explains, including the shift from “traditional objects of sculpture such as deities, heroes, and idols to the more contemporary objects of concern for the everyday.” As for why they picked the troll, Khan asked the students to bring in something they thought could be scaled up. After reviewing the possibilities, “they all agreed on the troll, mainly due to their own shared memories of having one or playing with one when they were young.”

Khan also hoped the students would take away an important lesson about thrift and simplicity—that making a large object doesn’t have to be expensive, complicated, or require a ton of marble or other challenging material (this troll is mostly made from Styrofoam). “Easily available and relatively inexpensive materials can be used to work on a large scale,” Khan says.

Students in Osman Khan’s Contemporary Sculpture 260 class
stand in front of the completed troll in the fairy
and troll Hollow in Nichols Arboretum.

The students also showed a lot of ingenuity and inventiveness in using digital and analog technologies such as a 3D scanner and software to scale the troll in virtual space and then trace dimensions accurately on sections of foam.

Experimenting with technologies, materials, and methods of building was the most interesting part of the project for Maya Crosman, a BFA junior in Stamps. “Each part of the process has been instructive, as there was no straightforward way to create our sculpture,” she says. No one in the class, Crosman explains, had ever made something as large as the troll doll. In fact, the class is the first of its kind. “We problem-solved as a team throughout the whole process, finding ways to scale-up the small rubber troll doll into a sculpture over ten feet.”

Someone vandalized the troll shortly before Thanksgiving,
making off with one of her feet and an arm. Quite a bit of
the hair was broken, too.

Editor’s note: We’re sad to report that just before Thanksgiving the troll was vandalized. Staff  members found her toppled over and missing a foot and an arm. We’re hopeful that whoever did this will return the pieces so the troll can be restored. In the meantime, a discussion is underway about what will happen next. Stay tuned as the story of the troll continues!