October 26, 2011

The Fremont Troll — with ‘hair — at local stores

News and Information

The man whose fertile mind helped give us the famous Fremont Troll now presents — drum roll, please — the Fremont Troll Chia Pet.

Architecture Professor Steve Badanes with the Chia version of the Fremont Troll he helped design.

Peggy Weiss

Architecture Professor Steve Badanes with the Chia version of the Fremont Troll he helped design.

Steve Badanes, UW professor of architecture, is known for many things. As an architect he is a founding member of the Jersey Devil group of design-builders, known for living on site while building their designs. He also directs the UWs award-winning Howard S. Wright Neighborhood Design/Build Studio, where talented students design and build small projects for area nonprofit agencies.

Badanes also was one of a group of four artists whose collective idea for a bridge troll won a 1990 competition sponsored by the Fremont Arts Council. The others were Ross Whitehead, Will Martin and Donna Walter.

The Fremont Troll has since become one of Seattle’s signature locations, attracting tourists, and a few vandals, year-round. Badanes says the artists control the copyright and rarely approve the trolls likeness for others. There’s Hales Brewery and Pubs Troll Porter, also in Fremont, and some free use by nonprofit groups, he said, “But most commercial stuff we just turn down. Cards and sweatshirts — were not interested.”

But when representatives of the Chia company in San Francisco got in touch asking about making a Chia Pet Fremont Troll, the idea appealed to the artists. “We said it sounds great but we want control over the design,” Badanes said. “So I was a design consultant. I even got to work on the box.”

In case you lapsed into a coma in the 70s and are only just now snapping out of it, Chia Pets are — well, let’s see — they’re small terracotta figures or busts made to grow chia, an herb, like a head of herbal hair. There are Chia animals, Chia dinosaurs, Einstein-like Chia professors, a “Chia liberty with torch light” — and Chia Daffy Duck, Homer and Bart Simpson, Scooby-Doo. There are two Chia Obamas, by the way — “happy” and “determined.”

A close-up of the Chia Troll.

A close-up of the Chia Troll.

But a Chia Fremont Troll? That notion came from Howie Cohen, general merchandise manager for the Northwest chain Bartell Drugs. Cohen was pleased, if a bit surprised, to be getting press calls over such a Chia pet. “We’ve definitely found an item that people are having a lot of fun with,” he said.

Cohen said he and fellow buyers “are always on the lookout for unique and local items we can do” from the Northwest. They’ve done other items, like custom Christmas ornaments with the Seattle skyline and Pike Place Market images. Cohen said he has other ideas up his sleeve, but shared no details. “Im guarded about what our plans are, but Ill tell you were working on multiple ideas for custom items for the next year.”

He said hes been getting calls from “displaced Seattleites across the country” interested in the Chia troll, and forwards inquiries to the chains Bridle Trails store in Kirkland.

Badanes said he and the other artists get a bit of royalty from the sale of each Chia Fremont Troll. He said royalties are divided five ways, the fifth portion being for the Fremont Arts Council that got it all started.

“It just seemed hilarious,” Badanes said of the Chia Fremont Troll idea. “They’re flying off the shelves.”