Melissa Maddonni Haims Cold Comfort 5.JPG

Mushrooms take over Schuylkill Center gallery in Roxborough
The Roxborough Review
By Eric Fitzsimmons
Published 02/01/2016

The Schuylkill Center’s gallery is a mycophile’s dream for the next two months with the Jan. 28 opening of “The Foragers,” an exhibit running through the end of March celebrating local mushrooms through crocheted statues and photographs by Melissa Maddonni Haims and husband Josh Haims, respectively.

“What I love about this show, which is many things ... is that we get to highlight creatures who inhabit this planet with us that we tend not to notice. They’re kind of always underfoot,” Executive Director Mike Weilbacher said introducing the artists at the opening.

Josh’s photographs of local fungus varieties with colorful names such as raspberry slime, turkey tail and hen of the woods line the gallery interspersed with mossy tree limbs, which serve as the setting for Melissa’s crochet creations.

While the photographs are blown up for display, Melissa explained that her crochet mushrooms are made to scale and staged as they might be found on the trail: on trees that are also, for the most part, local (two limbs came from New York and one actually from an art supply store).

“I loved mixing the fake with the real. I loved that juxtaposition of the false mushrooms and the actual bark and moss,” Melissa said.

Like mushrooms, “The Foragers” exhibit represents just the fruit of something with roots stretching back 20 years, as Melissa explained.

Eating at a restaurant in Manhattan, where they lived at the time, she inquired about a dish featuring morel mushrooms and Melissa said she got a, somewhat lengthy, answer from the chef, which kindled an interest.

Soon Josh was noticing foragers picking mushrooms during early morning bike rides along the Wissahickon while visiting Melissa’s parents in Norristown. He then began to dismount and capture pictures of the local mushrooms, a habit he has continued in the intervening two decades and through travels across the U.S., Melissa said.

Meanwhile, Melissa was working in the fiber arts, having done a previous installment at the Schuylkill Center called “Cold Comfort” where she yarn-bombed trees along the Widener Trail, wrapping them in crocheted material. As she explained, “It’s basically making a scarf and wrapping it around something cold and hard, making it warm and fuzzy.”

When she came back to the center to discuss a biomimicry exhibit, talk came back to the morel mushroom and her husband’s collection of mushroom photos.

For “The Foragers,” Melissa said, it was decided to stick with the local varieties to highlight what people might find if they look closely in their walks in local woodlands.

“These are mushrooms that you could go outside here [at the Schulkill Center] and anywhere in this area. Something that is amazing about mushrooms is just the sheer diversity of them,” Director of Environmental Art Christina Catanese said in a conversation. “I think what’s great about Melissa’s work is that it’s like these little windows into the forest floor that celebrate this diversity.”

In addition to the gallery displays, Melissa has touched into her yarn-bombing instinct and installed nine crochet mushrooms outdoors on trees along Schuylkill Center trails for visitors to discover on their travels.

All the pieces displayed in the gallery are on sale, with all the proceeds being donated back to the Schuylkill Center, Josh announced at the opening.