'Stoppenålen' ('The Darning Needle') – Odense, Denmark - Atlas Obscura

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'Stoppenålen' ('The Darning Needle')

This risqué sculpture, based on a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, caused outrage 35 years after it was erected. 

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Danish author Hans Christian Andersen is best remembered for his classic fairy tales such as The Ugly Duckling, The Little Mermaid, and The Emperor’s New Clothes. One of his lesser-known stories, The Darning Needle, relays the tale of a snobbish darning needle who thinks of herself as a fine embroidery needle. One day, she falls into the sewers and embarks on a long and turbulent journey. The moral of the tale is that pride comes before the fall.

In Odense, Andersen’s birthplace, you can find over 15 public sculptures based on the writer’s adventures. While most of the three-dimensional art objects are rather conventional, that’s not the case with The Darning Needle, inspired by the novel bearing the same name. The sculpture consists of two parts and depicts the story’s protagonist (in red granite) as well as the pin needle character (in black granite with a polished head).

Sculptor Frede Troelsen (1932-2014) deliberately shaped The Darning Needle ambiguously. This has made people wonder what the figures really represent—simply two innocent fantasy needles or perhaps also a phallus and a yoni? The artist said that he wanted his sculpture to symbolize the timeless theme of masculinity vs. femininity that he associated with Andersen’s tale. 

The Darning Needle was erected in Odense’s main shopping street in 1988. It took more than three decades, however, before it caused a proper stir. In 2023, the Municipality of Odense updated its official Facebook page with photos of the risqué sculpture. Shortly after, a record-breaking amount of comments poured in. While some citizens praised the two granite figures, others were outraged calling them “perverted,” “pornographic,” and “satanic”. Soon, the debate even caught the attention of national Danish news outlets.

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Located in a pedestrian street in the very heart of Odense, 10-15 minutes walk from the central station, and freely accessible 24/7.

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