Trolling for Whimsey

Altoona’s River Prairie to get interactive sculptures of mythical monsters

Tom Giffey

PINPIN STUDIO
PINPIN STUDIO (Click for a closer look.)

As early as next spring, visitors may stumble across a trio of trolls in Altoona’s River Prairie Park. These won’t be adorable, brightly colored cartoon trolls or their fuzzy-headed doll counterparts, nor the anonymous trolls who stir up anger on the Internet. They’ll be the bizarre-looking, mountain-dwelling trolls of Nordic folklore – brought to life with the help of solar energy.

The three steel statues will be created and installed as the result of a partnership among a Swedish artist and a pair of Chippewa Valley sculptors with funding from the Union Pacific Railroad, Xcel Energy, and the City of Altoona.

When construction began on River Prairie Park a few years ago, City Administrator Mike Golat said, the city intended to eventually put artwork at the headwaters of the park’s artificial creek. In fact, a pedestal was installed for that purpose. While searching online for something unique to fill the space, city officials discovered Swedish artist Karl-Johan Ekroth, who specializes in child-friendly design. “He knew we had a Scandinavian heritage (in the Chippewa Valley), and this idea of having the trolls and something interactive for the kids came to light,” Golat said.

The proposal from Ekroth’s PINPIN Studio carries the working title “Don’t Feed the Trolls.” From a distance, the three sculptures will resemble rocks, but on closer inspection visitors will see that trolls are petrified within them. The trio will form an interactive sound sculpture that will thrum with low sounds and blink with rhythmic lights – all powered with renewable energy via solar panels.

“In this sculpture, we want to combine sound and interactivity with Scandinavian folklore, expressing simplicity, playfulness, and whimsey,” the proposal states.

While Ekroth has designed the sculptures, they will be built by Solar Forma of Eau Claire, a new partnership between Greg Johnson (of Artisan Forge Metalworks) and Brian Graff whose mission is to use solar technologies in architectural and aesthetic ways. The sculptures’ solar element drew the attention of Xcel Energy, which pledged $5,000 toward the project, which will be combined with a $10,000 grant from the Union Pacific (via the Altoona Area Foundation) and $8,000 committed by the Altoona City Council.

The City Council gave its approval to the project on Nov. 14, and the sculptures are expected to be installed at River Prairie Park next spring. Golat believes they will be yet another element that draws visitors to the park and adjacent development.

“It fits with our vision for River Prairie with putting a lot of interesting and fun things there for people to enjoy,” he said.