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Creating Kew’s fabulous Fungi Fairy Ring

Tom Hare
6 September 2013

Tom Hare, willow sculptor extraordinaire, writes about creating the Fungi Fairy Ring, one of the highlights of this autumn’s IncrEdibles festival

Meeting the mycologists

After submitting the concept for 'The Fungi Fairy Ring', with its enormous willowy proportions, to the IncrEdibles festival team during summer 2012, I was invited back to Kew to develop the idea further and to meet the mycologists in the depths of Kew's Fungarium.

Working on Tom Hare's IncrEdibles fungi sculptures

The monumental fungi weaving process is nurtured on its way with good music, humour and camaraderie from Tom’s team of creatives (Image: Tom Hare)

When you meet a specialist at Kew, in whatever field of study, you can be sure that this will be a privileged occasion. This was no exception. I was introduced to Bryn Dentinger and Martyn Ainsworth, whom I understand are some of the world’s most knowledgeable fungi experts. We descended into the vaults of the Fungarium, where, filed in immaculate boxes from floor to ceiling, lay the world’s largest collection of dried fungi.

With the festival in mind, the mycologists disappeared down an avenue of boxes, plucked out several UK edible specimens and returned with their findings.

From an immediate list of twenty plus, ten seemed a sensible number to discuss in detail. Bryn and his staff were very generous in sharing their knowledge and allowing me the opportunity to document each delicate and meticulously parcelled fungus, pointing out and explaining their unique characteristics. Boletus edulis, for example, delivers its spores through a tubular structure, unlike Morchella esculenta which fires its spores up to ten metres through pits lined with gun-like mechanisms. A truly inspiring and fascinating experience condensed into a singular afternoon.

Sketching the sculptures

Back in the Midlands, sat at the drawing table, I contemplated these ten species and started to translate the personalities of the fungi into willow and steel. From the original ten UK edibles, seven were chosen, including the shaggy ink cap (Coprinus comatus), field mushroom (Agaricus campestris), horn of plenty (Craterellus cornucopioides), chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius) and the parasol fungi (Macrolepiota procera).

First I simply sketch, and then I make a maquette of the armature that will eventually suggest the form, mostly hidden within the sinuous lines of woven willow.

Preliminary sketch for fungi sculptures (Image: Tom Hare)

Making the maquettes

All of the maquettes were scaled by Andy Langley of Artfabs and his crew, in a process we have been developing together over the past ten years. Boletus edulis required another material to suggest its tubular spore delivery system. I immediately thought of water reed and spoke to Lee Miller, friend and master thatcher, who favoured straw for this application, and so the idea was born!

Creating Tom Hare's sculpture of Boletus edulis

Creating the Boletus edulis sculpture (Image: Tom Hare)

Weaving together the parts

So from the seven species, clusters of three or four in varying stages of growth were born: some twenty-one items, most of which were dissected into two parts, leaving a small crew of weavers fifty large components to weave, one stem of willow at a time...

Tom Hare fungi sculpture showing different colour willows

The rich chocolate colours in the work are boiled willows, and the white is a stripped willow. Stripping is undertaken in late spring when the sap is rising, which enables the bark to peel with ease.(Image: Tom Hare)

Installing the fairy ring

Then finally, the sculptures were ready for delivery and installation. The pure scale of these sculptures proved to be problematic from a logistical point of view. The larger forms needed to be made in sections for ease of handling and transportation.

Having worked at Kew creating the seed walk in 2009, when I developed a real connection with the place, I have to say ‘it's great to be back’. The support onsite by Kew staff was exceptional. Thank you to everyone involved.

- Tom -

Tom Hare's signature/logo


See the Fungi Fairy Ring at Kew's Incredibles festival

priority booking for Kew the Music


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18 September 2013
What a wonderful surprise today at Kew! The rain must have helped to grow the most amazing mushrooms ever! And I didn't even mind that I couldn't make a risotto with them! Really beautiful
11 September 2013
It looks fantastic Tom, might persuade us to take a trip down to Kew.

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