Interview With Sculptor Kim Beaton

When I first viewed this tree troll sculpture image, the very first thing that came to mind, other than of course the size and aesthetic magnetism of the sculpture itself, was the troll's eyes coupled with that benevolent expression. He looks powerful and able to crush human beings if that were his aim.  Yet, looking into his eyes, and with that contented smile he wears, he radiates gentleness.

I wanted to know what it would be like to build a sculpture of this magnitude in tandem with twenty-five other artists. When reading about the sculpted Tree Troll for this interview, it was mentioned that the artists were hoping to find the sculpture a permanent residence. Not only did I want to know more about the creative process of sculpting the tree troll, but felt I needed to know that the troll did in fact have a home. (Just look at that face.  Can't have a tree troll with a kind face like that out in the cold.)   ;-) I'll leave it to the reader to discover his creation, inspiration, and good fortune.

Sculptor Kim Beaton

In 2006, with the help of twenty-five volunteer artists, you built a giant tree troll.
How did you recruit your 25 volunteers to build this troll?

I have been a working sculptor in Seattle for 30 years. I just called up about a dozen friends and asked them to put the word out that I was building a big sculpture. It was done with word of mouth rather than emailing.

What was that like, working with twenty five others for this purpose?

There were never more than ten at any given time in the studio. The studio was open for volunteers between 10 am till 10pm. This way, whether someone was going to work, attending school, or came from across town, there was always a window of time for them to show up.

Did the vision change as the efforts progressed?

Oh yes, daily. You rapidly discover what people can do, how many volunteers can show up,  or whether the materials are doing what they are supposed to do. My rule with any big project is that I need to already know how to do at least 50% of the work. Everything else you can learn on the job. This way each project is teaching you something new and allowing you to work with new people. This keeps your mind fresh to new ideas and techniques. 

The materials you used were non-toxic. What sorts of materials were involved?

Paper, glue, acrylic paint, wood, screws, metal plates. Nothing that gave off fumes or couldn't be washed of with soap and water. 

 What challenges did you run into?

Getting the materials in the late evenings for the volunteers to work on the next day. Occasionally there were personality conflicts, but those are resolved by folks just coming in at a different time.

Does the tree troll have a name?

We came up with the name Jotuntre, which is king of the trees in Norwegian (I think), but it never caught on. We always called him the Tree Troll. 

What sort of reaction did people have for him locally?

He traveled around Seattle for about 2 years. He showed up at Fairs, parades, markets and such. The Reaction? Genuine love.... Reverence.... Joy.... Delight.... It isn't that we didn't expect these reactions, we just never expected anything to begin with. We loved building it. The response took a long time to grow. The Tree Troll began to slowly get seen around the city many months after we built it. 


How do you store a work of that size?

It might have been difficult, but so many people and places wanted to borrow him that there was never a time that he didn't have a home. He sort of sofa surfed for a few years. 

Has he been given a permanent home since 2006?

Yes, The Bellagio Casino purchased him after one of their representatives saw him in the Fremont Solstice Parade. Now, for 2 1/2 months of the year, around Thanksgiving, he is put on display. It is wonderful, about a quarter million people see him during that time. He is kept indoors, and is well cared for in a climate controlled environment. Being paper-mache, this is the perfect place.

Note from Wendy: I found some pictures of the tree troll in his new habitat here.

You mention tree tolls from Scandinavian Mythology. Would you mind telling about them and their common attributes? What do they tend to represent in those stories?

There is not a particular myth that we were taking from. The idea of a man-like personification of the forest goes back thousands of years. In more recent centuries he is pictured as the Green Man that shows up in hundreds of sculptures throughout Europe. Wikipedia says it the most poetically...

His name means the Green One or Verdant One, he is the voice of inspiration to the aspirant and committed artist. He can come as a white light or the gleam on a blade of grass, but more often as an inner mood. The sign of his presence is the ability to work or experience with tireless enthusiasm beyond one's normal capacities. In this there may be a link across cultures, …one reason for the enthusiasm of the medieval sculptors for the Green Man may be that he was the source of every inspiration.

Though, this was not the original reason I organized everyone to build our Tree Troll. That reason is very personal. The Tree Troll is a portrait of my Dad, Hezzie Strombo. He was a lumberjack in Montana for most of our lives. He had died a few months prior at 80 years old.  On June 2nd, at 3am, I woke from a dream with a clear vision burning in my mind. The image of my dad, old, withered and ancient, transformed into one of the great trees, sitting quietly in a forest.  I leaped from my bed, grabbed some clay and sculpted like my mind was on fire. In 40 minutes I had a rough sculpture that said what it needed to. The next morning I began making phone calls, telling my friends that in 6 days time we would begin on a new large piece. The next 6 days, I got materials and made more calls. On June 8th we began, and 15 days later we were done. I have never in my life been so driven to finish a piece.

You have created more than this project in collaboration with others. What do you like about collaborating as an artist?

That is like asking a drummer why they like being in a band. It makes sense that musicians always work collaboratively, so why is such a stretch that sculptors would want to also? The idea of the lone artist creating their vision is true, but it can also be very isolating. I like a 50/50 balance. Isolation for the initial thought, and then get a group together for the construction.  

On your website, you wrote : "There is a great deal of beautiful art in this city, but most of it only looks good standing by itself. The classic monument style is cluttered and diminished if there are people standing in front. I wanted to create a sculpture whose composition was completed when someone was nearby. It should look at it’s best with the public involved.”
Can you think of any examples you have come across of a landmark or statue, any kind of public art that fits that criteria besides the troll you and the volunteers constructed?

One  in particular, a pair of gigantic wings with a circle in the middle that showed up at Burning Man a few years ago. A perfect example of a sculpture that is completed with the presence of people.

Did you (and the volunteers) accomplish what you meant to do?

Yes, we did, what we wanted to do was come together, work collaboratively on big fun sculpture and make some good memories. The fact we also had a sculpture to show for the effort is a plus.

Thank you, Kim! It was a great experience to learn more about your work and the creation of this very unique, endearing sculpture, and it is reassuring to know he has a place to call home. :) To learn more about Kim's work, visit her studio, or her website. Kim may be emailed at Kimsculptor@gmail.com, or may be contacted through the following address:

 Kim Beaton
Unit 14, 1 Duchess Place
Maupuia 6022
Wellington, NZ

All images on this page are used with permission and are copyright protected.

Other Artists Associated With This Project:

Rob Rogalski: Illustrator, Designer, and Puppeteer

The Pacific Northwest Sculptors:
Eben Graber
Patrica Hasse
Heidi Wastsweet
Greg Fields

The Art Institute Students:
Jasmine Gilbert
Pasha Amigud
Sarah Bolte

Local sculptors:
Bruce Johnson
Jina Graham
Laura Toepel
Karlee Anger
Daniel Joyce
Rowan Mullen
Jon Hageman
Marnie Tyson
Jim Burdwell
Julie Wright
Dan Fozzard
Brandy Cannon
Drew Robinson
William Higareda

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