by Kirby Lindsay, posted 27 October 2014
On October 31st, 2014, Fremont’s favorite curmudgeon is 24 years older. The Fremont Arts Council (FAC) will celebrate with a creative performance and neighborhood haunt, called ‘Trolloween’, and a fundraising party, called ‘Troll-A-Go-Go.’
In 2015, the Seattle Department of Parks & Recreation will begin constructing a park to be called ‘Troll’s Knoll’ on public land previously used for construction staging, illegal dumping, unauthorized encampments, and a seemingly never-ending series of community clean-ups. Parks plans to install a p-patch, public gathering space, art and specific plantings intended to enhance but not block views.
The inspiration for all this activity, and part of the influx of tourists to Fremont each summer, starts with a sculpture, The Fremont Troll, and a group of designers, led by Steve Badanes, who dreamed and developed this shockingly simple yet wildly creative idea as a solution for a previously neglected and problematic site.
‘A Simple Project’
Badanes, a professor in the University of Washington College of Built Environments – Department of Architecture, also directs the Neighborhood Design/Build Studio. In the Design/Build Studio, Badanes leads students through a civic project from original idea to construction. The website list demonstrates the diversity and high-creativity of the work done by students, when they are given a chance to exercise their skills and put them to use for public benefit.
Still, for Badanes, “one of the greatest things I’ve ever been involved in,” is the Fremont Troll. Badanes designed The Troll with students – Will Martin and Ross Whitehead – and artist Donna Walter. From the beginning, he has served as the point person, acting on behalf of the Troll, and the rights of the artists. “There have been a few bumps in the road,” he recently acknowledged, “but it is a great legacy.”
“The people will make it into whatever they want to make it,” Badanes said, “It goes to show that a simple project, with a small budget, created by regular people, can make a huge impact!”
‘A Feel Good Story’
“I am proud of it,” Badanes said, “the concept was huge – a collaboration of the artists.” Still, Badanes quickly pointed out that as a professor of architecture, he works with architecture students, not artists. Also, the Fremont Troll, he said, “is more of an icon than a piece of public art.”
Badanes, and the other artists, collaborated with Bartell Drugs and Chia Pet two years ago to create 22,000 accurate mini-Trolls. They approve licensing of the image, and brought suit early on to protect their right to hold a copyright on the sculpture, (although, the use of the Troll image remains free to non-profits.) He continues to work on proper maintenance and potential erosion control with the Fremont Arts Council, which commissioned the Troll.
The FAC originally funded the art work with grant money from the City of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods. “If there is any lesson to be learned from the Troll,” Badanes said, “it is to go through the Department of Neighborhoods to build public projects. It was a community initiated project. Neighborhoods has a fabulous program. I’ve done so many great projects with Neighborhoods.”
“It is such a feel good story,” Badanes said about the commission, “so improbable and so great!” According to him, a member of the jury to select the final project for the site under the Aurora Bridge, “suggested we go for it.” He recruited the students and got to, “put my skills to use on a public project. Sometimes you know when the situation is right,” he said, “The idea is so strong, it stands.”
Creative Minds, Strong Ideas
While Badanes takes credit for the Fremont Troll as a piece of art, he is quick to say this is not his usual work. His partner, Linda Beaumont, does do large, public art installations, and the two acknowledged that it is a tough field, and getting tougher. “You are accountable,” Beaumont said, when working with civic representatives, contractors, the public, project engineers, etc., “it is anathema for some artists.” As Badanes added, “it’s a huge responsibility, and fear takes over.”
“The arena of public art is changing,” Beaumont observed. The standards are rigorous for public projects, she said, “you come up with an idea from a dream, and then it gets cut and cut and cut,” as the piece undergoes review.
Yet, Badanes observed, the future for architecture students can also have challenges. “There is a prescribed career path for architecture students,” he explained, “they take their portfolio and go get a job. Yet, it’s a hard profession – times get tough and they cut staff,” he said, referring to the 2008 economic downturn, “we might have lost a whole generation there, in the recession.”
The Troll proves that a place for creative minds and strong ideas exists. “We were regular people,” he said of the Troll team. To his current students, he says, “I tell them there are a lot of alternatives for architecture.” Today, his students don’t have to draw or sketch. Most architects move a mouse on a pad (or, “push the soap around,” as Badanes described it,) but, “in the beginning it’s about ideas,” he noted, “and a pretty good connection between heart, hand and the mind.”
“Someday I’m going to have to let go,” Badanes acknowledged. He makes himself accessible for questions or projects related to the Fremont Troll. “The plaza is filling with dirt,” he agreed, and erosion has to be addressed, “I don’t know how to do it,” he said, “it could be expensive,” and he works with the FAC on options.
“We get some requests,” he said about using the image, “and some don’t ask. It’s such a time suck to protect the copyright,” but he protects it as much as he can.
Badanes also consulted on Troll’s Knoll Park. “I’m totally okay with the idea of it,” he said, “With the number of [construction] cranes, the scale of our city, and the density, the need for more green space is big. It’s a pretty good place for it. I think it’s a good idea to build a park.” As to the Park plan, Badanes would prefer a community-developed plan, but he has great faith in the skills of landscape architect Margaret Harrison, of Harrison Design.
Twenty-four years after its installation, the Fremont Troll’s popularity is actually growing. In January 2013, the FAC, with Badanes cooperation, installed a donation box on the sculpture to fund maintenance of the work. Thanks to the generous gifts from Troll fans, and the work Badanes continues to do, the sculpture looks to have a long, well-cared for, future.
- The Troll’s Knoll Park Plan Moves Forward
- by Dan Green, July 9, 2014
- Another Look At The ‘People Waiting’, And Rich Beyer
- by Kirby Lindsay, September 7, 2011
- All I Know (so far…) About The Fremont Troll
- by Kirby Lindsay, April 2007 for Fremont.com
- Fremont Public Art Inventory, Part VI: The Big Ones
- by Kirby Lindsay, January 13, 2012
©2014 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.