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Troll masters: Cathcart Elementary students create recycled art with heart and purpose

A creative student project at Cathcart Elementary is bringing art to life while instilling the importance of sustainability, creativity, and community.

Cathcart Elementary students in teacher Carrie Henderson's 4th-6th grade classroom recently embarked on an exciting and innovative art project guided by school parent and classroom art docent Liz Olson.

“This project was inspired by a conversation with my amazing classroom art docent team and myself,” Henderson said. “In teaching Washington state history, I wanted to find a way to somehow incorporate the trolls around the region into an art project.”

The project was sparked when a student mentioned a family connection to Thomas Dambo, a celebrated Danish sculpture artist renowned for his "Way of the Bird King" troll sculptures. Washington state boasts five of these impressive trolls, which have become cherished local landmarks.

“The family connection between the artist and a student’s grandma was quickly discussed, and this project bloomed quickly from there,” Henderson said. 

Drawing inspiration from Dambo’s masterpieces, the class set out to create their own troll using recycled materials. Dambo himself sent a video message from the forest where he was working on his next troll, encouraging the students with heartfelt words: "Best of luck to you guys, keep up the good work!" He applauded them as friends of his trolls and commendable recycling stewards.

“I have always thought that those trolls were amazing, and it would give kids a chance to connect to a current day artist, recycling items to make art, using different mediums and tools, and tying in many community pieces,” Henderson said. 

"I wanted to go beyond traditional arts and crafts,” Olson said. “I was looking for a project focused on modern application and sustainability … one that would help the kids truly appreciate art and blossom creatively." 

The project kicked off with Olson collaborating with local construction companies to gather leftover wood. Students scoured the area around the school for branches, sticks, and moss to use for the troll's arms, fingers, and hair. They eagerly took the reins in designing the troll’s face and body, while Olson’s husband volunteered to build the troll’s frame and assist with assembly.

For the students, the project helped them learn more about the Pacific Northwest and artists such as Dambo, while safely using power tools and learning more about sustainable practices and how to creatively collaborate on an impactful project.

The finished troll was affectionately named Mikerson, a playful nod to the soon-to-be-retiring Cathcart Elementary principal, Mike Anderson. The class wanted Mikerson to be the protector of the school’s outdoor classroom.

In addition to the large troll, students also collected recycled materials from home to create their own mini trolls. Inspired by Dambo’s tradition of giving each troll a unique story, they named and crafted stories for their mini creations as well.

Last week, students in the class finished the project for all to see and cherish for years to come.

“It truly was an amazing day of troll making and community teamwork,” Henderson said. “We hope it leaves a leaving a lasting impression on the entire school community.”

View photos of the project by clicking here.