Jewels of the forest, glittering with dew and nestling under logs, sprouting shelf-like on trees – mushrooms have captivated Yukon artist Lara Melnik. “When I’m out in the woods hiking, I see the mushrooms pop up out of nowhere. One day, after a rain, they’re everywhere. I love seeing them,” she says.

Her “shroomies” are more imaginative than the standard morel, oyster or button mushrooms we’re used to seeing. Hers are wildly coloured and spring from the whimsical mind of an artist.

The colours are unlike anything found in nature, yet at the same time, seem to vividly mimic what a forest full of mushrooms would look like.

The names of her pieces borrow heavily from the natural world of mushrooms, with an added imaginative twist. Words like cosmic, delicious and rainbow describe what would otherwise be straightforward mushroom names.

These silent gems also have names straight from fairy tales, like tresors cache (the artist doesn’t use capitalization in the names of her pieces) or the magical three.

“The quiet hunt” is what Russians describe as “mushroom seeking”, according to Lara (who also asks that I avoid CP Style‘s use of last-name-only in subsequent references).

Part Ukrainian and part Russian, Lara has felt a particular affinity to mushrooms since she experimented with creating various fungi for a show at the Yukon Arts Centre this past winter.

“It all started after the show in January. I had a few sculptural pieces of fungi and I quite enjoyed the creation process, and I thought, I have to do a show on mushrooms,” she says.

At one point, Lara’s workshop was overflowing with bits and pieces, stems and caps of mushrooms-in-progress. “I had boxes and boxes full of shroomies, pods, fungi, driftwood,” laughs Lara.

“I even built a polymer mushroom on top of a real mushroom,” she says. It’s a realistic twist on the fanciful display that makes the show so intriguing. What Lara creates has a base in the natural world, one that she sees on hikes or in her greenhouse.

The mushrooms are created using polymer clay, which is a versatile material to grow with one’s imagination; Lara experiments with blending and shading and works with glow-in-the-dark, shimmer and translucent clays.

“Polymer clay is wonderful. I started using it as a child, making Oreo cookies on a plate or miniature doughnuts. I then worked with cane rolls, making jewellery.”

Lara wanted to take polymer clay beyond the realm of beads and miniatures — into the art sphere. “Eventually I began creating abstract pieces and landscapes, as well as beads. Then with the mushrooms, things just ‘grew’ from there,” says Lara.

The mushrooms, over 42 separate pieces, are a feast for the eyes. Candy-coloured and evocative of the mysterious nature of the mushroom, Lara does them justice. Viewing the varieties, one cannot help but revisit the mythological aspects of mushrooms and reflect upon their beauty and inherent poisonous danger.

Lara’s show, the quiet hunt, is at the Chocolate Claim until the end of August. Her work is also featured at the new Yukon Artists At Work location.

For images of Lara’s work, visit her website at www.laramelnik.com.