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Land of the Giants

Photo: Jolea Brown

Celebrating Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest’s 90th anniversary

Mama Loumari, shown above, stretches approximately 25 feet long. Located half in shade, half in sun, her pregnant “fur” belly and torso are made of local bourbon barrel staves.

The art installation, entitled Forest Giants in a Giant Forest, is part of Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest’s 90th anniversary, says Visual Arts Coordinator Jenny Zeller.

Zeller, who is also the anniversary coordinator, says, “Thomas Dambo is a renowned recycling artist from Denmark, known for creating large-scale installations from materials that are otherwise thrown into landfills.”

Dambo, 39, has installed about 50 giant trolls, as he calls them, all over the world using discarded materials.

They discovered his work on social media and could immediately envision it at Bernheim. “We loved the message of sustainability that Dambo’s work comes with,” she says. “Dambo hates that our forests are being depleted by being milled while throwing valuable resource materials into landfills.”

Zeller says, “His art asks us to look at the choices of our lifestyle and the effects it has on the environment, inspiring viewers to see that trash can be repurposed into something beautiful.”

Dambo explains, as a child he would always look for materials to make things. So now, “I start with the material, and then I design, instead of starting with the design and finding the material. There is no reason to go and buy any material … whatever you need you can build it with whatever you find. That is why I really enjoy designing and working with recycled materials because it gives me the freedom of creation in a whole other way than if I had made a design and bought exactly what I needed to build it.”

The Bernheim staff began securing wood months before Dambo arrived. They worked with a variety of area businesses that had wood which was going to be discarded. Best Made Pallets in Shepherdsville donated tons of pallet wood, and they located bourbon staves and other wood “that was really gorgeous,” which been rough cut with a live edge on it. Louisville Slugger donated discarded bats and a southern Indiana cabinet maker also provided wood.

Dambo with eight other crew members along with dedicated Bernheim staff and 72 volunteers then spent 20 days building the giants. Bernheim anticipates the giants lasting at least three years, hopefully longer depending upon Mother Nature. Zeller says, “We are going to keep them as long as they are safe and esthetically pleasing.”

Zeller says she’s been blown away by the response. “We had 12,000 people in one day and had to temporarily close our gates to accommodate the crowds.”

She says, “The work is very accessible, and the scale and sustainable mission of the work has really resonated with our audience. Art has always been part of Bernheim’s story—but it has never been just about art. Visitors came for the hiking and discovered art. Now, people are literally coming for the art, and as a result they are discovering all these wonderful things that Bernheim does for the environment. It’s been very exciting to witness.”

Executive Director Dr. Mark Wourms says, “Through art, people can experience nature in a whole new way.”

School trips to visit the Forest Giants that reside at Bernheim Arboretum, Bardstown. Photo courtesy of Bernheim
Little Elina, located near Nevin Lake, is the smallest of the Giants created by Thomas Darbo. Photo courtesy of Bernheim
Dambo with eight other crew members, Bernheim staff and volunteers spent 20 days building the Giants. Photo courtesy of Bernheim
Artist Thomas Dambo constructed the Giants at Bernheim Arboretum. Photo courtesy of Bernheim
Completion of Mama Loumaria's lair off of Sun and Shade Loop. Photo courtesy of Bernheim
Visitors stand under Little Nis, one of the Forest Giants located at Bernheim Arboretum in Bardstown. Photo: Jolea Brown

Mama’s offspring are Little Elina, who sits building a rock formation in the shape of a feather, located near Nevin Lake, close to Sunset Amphitheater, and Little Nis, is seated looking at his reflection in the Olmsted Pond near the Visitor’s Center. They each range between 15–20 feet tall.

People can touch the giants and can sit on them, although Bernheim staff ask people to be careful and not climb on Mama Loumari’s belly since she is pregnant. “Visitors can climb on the giants’ hands, feet and legs, with permission from parents or guardians,” says Zeller.

Dambo says, “I don’t want people to find my sculptures. I want people to find themselves and their joy in nature. I want people to get lost, so they find all the beautiful … It’s the journey, not the destination.”

Zeller adds, “One of the other reasons why we love having Dambo’s and his work here is because it allows us to talk about the importance of large forest blocks. Bernheim is working on wildlife corridors to connect to other places to protect plants and animals that could be extinct otherwise. With 16,137 acres, approximately the size of Manhattan, “the large forest block that makes up Bernheim provides clear water, clean air, tons of places for our plants and animals to survive,” says Zeller.

Bernheim anticipates the giants lasting at least three years, hopefully longer depending upon Mother Nature. Zeller says, “We are going to keep them as long as they are safe and esthetically pleasing.”

As part of Bernheim’s 90th anniversary celebration, they are collecting people’s stories and photos. “Employees at Bernheim are constantly hearing others’ stories of Bernheim, especially when out in the community. We are making a conscious effort to collect these stories in this milestone year,” says Zeller. “We’ve received a lot of touching memories that are often accompanied with personal photographs. I’d like to extend the effort beyond the 90th and as we led up to our 100th anniversary in 2029.”

You can read the stories when you go online to Bernheim.org, look for “Our Story, Your Story, One Giant Story.” You can email your story and photos to mystory@bernheim.org.

Volunteers are welcome. Zeller says, “Volunteers make our world go around. They are the heart and soul of our organization. There’s never been a more important time than now to volunteer at Bernheim.”

One of the best-kept secrets of membership at Bernheim is that you also can receive free entry to approximately 240 other participating gardens, arboreta and conservatories across the nation as part of the American Horticultural Society reciprocal admissions program.

Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, served by Salt River Electric and located in Clermont, Kentucky, is open seven days a week. Your first stop should be at Bernheim’s Visitors’ Center, which was the first LEED Platinum Certified green building built in the five-state area in 2005.

Bernheim is home to three million trees, 2,100 species of wildlife and 40 miles of hiking trails. Bernheim offers many annual events, educational programming, an artist in residence program and much more. It is a privately owned, 100% member supported, nonprofit organization.


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