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Kentucky Arts and Culture

Forest Giants at Bernheim continue to delight visitors who enjoy art, nature, and fairytales

Cheri Lawson
The pregnant Forest Giant, Mama Loumari lounges at Bernheim Forest.

Kids and adults seem to be having a great time on this sunny fall day in Clermont, Kentucky. People from several states including the Blue Grass state, Ohio, Oregon, Georgia, Indiana, and Florida have made a trip to Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest in search of the so-called Forest Giants.

Ed Brodt, Trace Nall, Tony Mendizabal, and Julie Collinsworth are just a few of the visitors who’ve discovered the giant yellow footprints leading to the 2- mile loop at Bernheim, where a family of giants resides. Mama Loumari and her children Little Nis and Little Elina were named by their creator and renowned recycling artist Thomas Dambo.

When these larger-than-life trolls were first installed in 2019 attendance at the park doubled according to Jenny Zeller, Arts in Nature Curator. She said the Denmark artist repurposed pallets and bourbon barrel staves that would otherwise have been thrown into a landfill.

”It’s really kind of asking the viewer to consider what we throw away on a daily basis and try to re-imagine things into beautiful pieces of art,” said Zeller.

Cheri Lawson
A close-up of the face of Forest Giant, Little Elina, shows detail.

Dambo’s fairy tale trolls can be found in locations around the world from Copenhagen to Maine, Colorado, and Kentucky. Jenny Zeller says Dambo’s also written a fairy tale connecting the artwork from place to place. The folks at Bernheim recorded Dambo telling the tale.

People from all 50 states and 25 countries have flocked to Bernheim thanks to Dambo’s work.

The installation named “Forest Giants in a Giant Forest” is three very large sculptures. Zeller calls it, an experience of discovery.

”Thomas’ work is really meant to draw people into nature. We have found that through the giants here at Bernheim, we’ve been able to draw people into parts of the natural world here at Bernheim that they just weren’t exploring previously,” explained Zeller.

Even though the artwork was installed in 2019 there’s still a steady stream of visitors like Stephanie Nall who came with her sister-in-law and all their kids. They pose for pictures next to the pregnant giant, Mama Loumari. She’s the largest giant who stretches out to more than 30 feet, according to Jenny Zeller. Nall and the children are intrigued by Mama’s lair tucked behind her where she stores her natural treasures like a large golden rock, a dragon skull, and a unicorn horn.

“It captures the imagination of the children and myself too. I feel young being able to be in a real-life storybook,” said Nall.

The 16-thousand-acre forest, established in 1929 by Isaac Wolfe Bernheim is a private non-profit where art is a core value. It’s become a haven for Marlene Broderick, especially during the pandemic.

Wearing a wide-brimmed hat and mask the Elizabethtown resident is standing near Little Nis, the giant looking at his reflection in Olmstead Ponds. Broderick said she’s seen the giants at least 10 times.

“It gives you a sense of the timelessness because this has been made with recycled material, the artistic creativity of it, the whimsy, the fun, the humor, it lifts your spirits,” said Broderick.

Cheri Lawson
Forest Giant, Little Nis, positioned to see his reflection in Olmsted Ponds. Elizabethtown resident Marlene Broderick enjoys the art.

On the trail to the giants, three cousins, two from Ohio, one from Florida hike past the holly collection into the sun and shade trail where they cross the Lake Nevin bridge on their way to Little Elina. Jennifer Stowe said these trolls were on her bucket list.

”You can see the face. You can see the expression in the face. You can feel the bending of the knee and see the angle of the foot. It’s just fabulous,” said Stowe.

There are more than 20 natural art installations throughout the forest. Arts in Nature Curator, Jenny Zeller says, while the giants are a high-light she encourages everyone to visit Spirit Nest, the newest art installation. As for the Forest Giants, Zeller says there’s no telling how long they’ll be on display at the forest.

“Yeah, we will do what we can to keep them here. But it’s inevitable, at some point nature will take them back,” said Zeller.

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