Troll near Keeper of the Plains in artist’s shop for repairs

01/08/2014 8:51 AM

08/06/2014 11:04 AM

He hid down in that hole for six and a half years, minding his own business.

On his busiest days, he’d freak out a kid (in a good way), and that kid would make up her own story about how he got there and what he might be up to.

But fans of the troll that has lived in a hidden spot near the Keeper of the Plains since it was restored and reopened in 2007 have noticed lately that he’s been missing, and some are pretty worried.

Troll trackers need not worry, though. His creator, artist Connie Ernatt, has him – all 200 bronze pounds of him – safe and sound in her studio on Commerce Street.

She’s preparing to fix some damage he suffered at the hands of very determined vandals, who repeatedly got into his enclosure and assaulted him over the past several years. First they stole his bird skull necklace. Then they tore off his arm.

Once he’s healed, and once Wichita’s public works department finishes buttoning up his hidey hole, he’ll be back. It’ll likely be March.

The troll first made his appearance in May 2007.

Managers working on the restoration of the Keeper of the Plains and the beautification of the area around it ran into an expensive problem. A spot that had once served as an outflow area for the Westar Energy Plant was in the way and needed to go.

But experts said removing it could could cost up to $100,000. One of the project managers had a better idea.

He enlisted Ernatt to create a sculpture of a troll that would live in the outflow area. He’d be visible under the grates and surprise visitors.

The troll has been a popular attraction since then.

But over the years, vandals found a way to get to him, said Bernadette Bradshaw, the management assistant for the City of Wichita’s Division of Arts and Cultural Services. They took his necklace long ago and pried off his arm sometime last year.

In October, the river water level went down enough that Ernatt and a crew were able to remove the troll and transport him to the studio, where he’s been resting ever since.

The public works department has figured out how the vandals were getting in, and it’s working on a solution, Bradshaw said. When he moves back home, the troll should be safe.

In the meantime, people have been asking Ernatt where the troll is.

“I’ve been getting a lot of calls and e-mails and people wondering if something happened to him, whether he’s been stolen,” she said.

Ernatt plans to replace the necklace and the arm, and she’s considering other additions.

Perhaps the troll needs a pet for protection and company, Ernatt said.

“That may still happen,” she said. “We’ll see.”

Ernatt said she figures the vandals are adolescents who aren’t old enough to understand how their actions affect others. She’s hoping that the troll’s injuries will serve as a lesson to the younger children who love him.

“Fortunately, with the troll, there are so many people who do like him that there is a little bit of a cry of outrage when something like that happens,” she said. “I thought it was good that he was left there in his vandalized state for a while so that when younger children were shown the troll, they could be told, ‘Somebody did that, and it’s not a good thing.’ ”

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