Centerpiece by Lisa Kinoshita.

Guardian of the spirits – live shiitake mushroom sculpture on the bar at TAM’s White Party. By Lisa Kinoshita.

This year, I’ve enjoyed the amazing experience of working with Tacoma Art Museum to create one-off floral designs for special events such as the Georgia O’Keeffe opening, and TAM’s White Party and 10th anniversary celebration for director Stephanie Stebich (more on that to come-). Director of Development Peter Raffa and Donor Relations Manager Hannah Franke encourage me to think outside the box, and that’s how a live mushroom became a whimsical conversation piece rather than an appetizer at a recent event.

A lionsmane mushroom crop at Rolling Rocks Farm in Graham.

A lionsmane mushroom crop at Rolling Rocks Farm in Graham.

My favorite spectacle at any farmers market is that of blooming, live mushrooms – the flamboyant lionsmane; the pale bluish, frilled oyster; or the prim and proper shiitake, shown above. The mushrooms are fascinating to look at, sprouting from firm, approximately 12″x12″ pouf-shaped blocks of organic material that have been innoculated with mushroom pellets – and they encouraged just the kind of interaction with partygoers I was looking for at TAM’s White Party.

The fruiting shiitake block resembled a very large, toasted marshmallow composed of an odorless mixture of sawdust and coffee grounds with a firm, dry outer crust, and it proved irresistible to touch. Instead of a pot, I swathed it in soft white burlap that echoed its interesting texture. I procured the shiitake, and the lowdown on mushrooms’ ecological benefits, at Rolling Rocks Farm in Graham, where the young proprietor, Drew Constant, works his tail off dawn to dusk, growing clean food including free-range heritage chickens and grass-fed beef. We talked about mushrooms inside the dark, refrigerated coolers where they grow. For a compelling look at the value of mycelium in the eco-web (including its ability to soak up and remediate oil spills), check out local expert Paul Stamets’ excellent TED Talk, “6 Ways Mushrooms Can Save the World”.

I consider myself very lucky to have studio work where I can sometimes eat the results – many thanks to Tacoma Art Museum for their support! ~Lisa Kinoshita

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