These past months, I had the pleasure of not only interviewing a legend when it comes to the world of fungi education, but a passionate artist, gardener, forager and most of all—an undeniable naturalist at heart! Dick has been a pivotal part of OMS since the early 70’s and has mentored several members throughout his lifetime. He has grown up within nature and truly understands the forest and all the wonders within it!
What were some of your first experiences that got you interested in the world of fungi?
From the depression days of the early 30’s I had a fascination, perhaps even a love affair, with Mother Nature. I was a hill boy at the time in southeastern Ohio in the small town of Coshocton. I was only 8 years of age at the time, which was pretty early to be messing around with an older woman. I was always somewhat of a loner and spent a lot of time roaming the wooded hills of the area. Along with wandering in the woods, I was also a “river rat” and lived in easy access of the confluence of three major rivers. I lived, or probably better put, existed, in a rather dilapidated cabin along a manmade lake that was part of the old Ohio canal. We were very poor, which wasn’t anything unusual given this period of time in our countrie’s history. During this time period, I conjured up a deep interest in wild plants, trees, fish, birds and anything else nature had to offer. I had no interest in mushrooms, however. “Toadstools”, the stem-cap types, were looked upon with superstitious disdain at this time, and I was instructed at an early age to not even touch them, let alone eat them. For the most part, “mycophobia” hasn’t changed much.
It wasn’t until 1941 that we moved from Coshocton to the flat land, glaciated area of north central Ohio–Marion to be exact. It was like running down a ski slope onto a tennis court. Marion county was as flat as Coshocton county was hilly. I maintained my interest in nature, however, and delighted in the species variation of the vascular plants that came with the change of habitat. I went on with my trekking the woodlands and being pretty much of a loner. My interest was mostly identifying things that were unfamiliar to me in the natural world. I still had no interest in mushrooms, only the vascular plants.
I was in high school at a time, when we had on occasion to move to another part of town. The house we rented was beside a greenhouse. Still mentally suffering from the depression fallout, my mom promptly got me a job in the greenhouse so I could “earn my keep” as it were. Being next to plants and learning horticulture was pleasing for me and fit in with my love of the outdoors. Even the “indoors” seemed “outdoors” to me.
My life was put on hold at this point with a two year stint in the service.
My job awaited me when I returned from overseas and so did my sweetheart whom I had met in the greenhouse–both of us having been employed there. We married immediately on my return and have remained so for 67 years now. At this time, I still never had an interest for mushrooms.
In the late 40’s, I returned to the greenhouse that had been taken over by the daughter of my former boss. She was a rabid naturalist and a very good one. On my 21st birthday, she purchased as a birthday present for me; a mushroom book authored by William Sturgis Thomas. “Field Book to Common Mushrooms”, it was titled and I hit the floor running–the book fascinated me! Perhaps it was because I’d covered most of the vascular plants that interested me and these unique and unusual plants and their habits had me glued to the pages for most of my free time.
Given that the majority of the population in America were mostly Anglo-saxons, and the fact that the English were traditionally anti-mushrooms; there was little to be found in the way of literature on the subject. Mushroom books didn’t sell due to lack of interest, so they were not purchased by book stores. One nearly had to go it alone; a self educated proposition. I managed to get a few more books such as: Alex Smith’s “Mushroom Hunters Field Guide”, Myron Hard’s “Mushrooms” and one of my very favorite beginner’s book Phyllis Glick’s “The Mushroom Trail Guide” and my “mycobible” over the years, C.H. Kauffman’s “Agaricaceae of Michigan”, a perfectly organized book that takes the reader by the hand. It is strictly for learning by reading with no color plates, which to me are an interruptive diversion and best used to justify an Identification decision already made. This initial decision would better be decided by the use of keys to form an ID conclusion, rather than browse in a picture parade trying to match the mushroom in hand with a picture in a book. There are too many mushrooms that appear the same. Although Kauffman has a separate book to go with the main manuscript, the pictures are miserable black and white photos probably taken by an old “black box” Kodak, popular during that era; the book was written in 1918. I finally built a library of around fifty or so books. A dozen very good manuscripts would have served the same purpose. There is a lot of “copycatism” in mushroom books. Some are written, but I think simply copied from books already published…not word for word, of course, but as a source of information.
Good comprehensive keys are essential for a solid approach for learning the fleshy fungi.
Dick Grimm with Rube Holcomb checking out some spores circa the 1970s.
How did Ohio Mushroom Society start and progress over the years? Who were some of the key people that started this organization and what was your involvement at the time?
OMS struggled for membership in the beginning for lack of interest in the subject. Even naturalists ignored the subject. On the outside looking in, this is often very subjective when dealing with what was considered a hobby full of deadly poisonous species of a plants. Actually there are very few deadly poisonous mushrooms, and thankfully most of them are in one genus. The genus Amanita, is well documented and easily distinguishable through that documentation. Still, the mycophiles are considered a weird breed who play Russian roulette with a poisonous natural food. There is no excuse for ignorance when it comes to poisonous fungi.
Most of our early efforts took place around Xenia, Ohio. I got in touch with Harry Knighton from Portsmouth, Ohio, who is now deceased, but originally entered into one of President Lyndon Johnson’s “people to people” programs; this one expounded the fleshy fungi subject. Given that, Harry was an Ohioan of the North American Mycological Association (NAMA), which was started right here in Ohio. The first meeting took place at Camp Lazarus near Delaware, with Harry presiding. I don’t recall all of the first few in the group, less than a half dozen as word had it, but along with Harry, Professor Wayne Ellette, who was a plant Pathology professor at Ohio State University was present at the time. Wayne became a good friend of mine as time went on. Over time, through that organization I obtained the names of the men from Xenia where most of the mycological interest resided.
We were a party loving group and included covered dish food and drink at most of our forays. There were some “myco-sharpies” in the group and I learned from them. Actually we learned from one another and eventually the club began to grow, although not by leaps and bounds. There wasn’t that many leapers and bounders interested in mushrooms. But, someone knew someone who knew someone and eventually the club grew to around 40 or 50 members! We put out a monthly periodical called “The Spore Print”. We had a member, a dear old woman, who was quite wealthy and was actually the granddaughter of President Rutherford B. Hayes. She decided we needed a mimeograph machine for the periodical and promptly bought us one. I took the position of President and also Editor of the paper at this time. It suffered grammatical chaos until the treasurer of NAMA, Neil Waterbury from Toledo became a member of our club, edited it before it was sent back to me for printing. It all seems so archaic now with the advent of computers. Neil retired from the NAMA Treasurers position only a few years later and recommended me for the job of which I accepted. I gave it up in about a year. It was too demanding for the time I had to give it.
It was about the mid 70’s when a young college grad from Youngstown, one Walter Sturgeon, got in touch with me. His wife had given him a mushroom book for his birthday and like me, he went ape over it! Walt and I got together and I mentored him for awhile. He was a dedicated student and after a few years, he was teaching me.
Walt took over the presidency. We passed it back and forth a couple of times with each other and another of our members. Bill Roody, now author of several mushroom books was brought into the club and took over the responsibility of editing the newsletter. He promptly changed the name from “The Spore Print” to “The Mushroom Log”, telling us that there was other Spore Print periodical signatures in clubs around the country. The name changed to “The Mushroom Log”, as has remained same to this very day.
What were some of your favorite haunts you enjoyed finding a diversity of fungi back in the 70’s?
Various parks in Ohio: Burr Oak Park in Morgan County being a regular mushroom vacationing venture, Shawnee, Delaware, Deer Creek, Mohican, and Oak Openings just to name just a few. I haven’t missed many of them over the years.
What were some of your favorite places outside of Ohio you enjoyed foraging?
I’d have to say the “Smokies” for places outside of Ohio. The habitat there is so diverse there! When it was wet, the outer banks of North Carolina was very interesting as well. Actually a good mushroomer is always on the lookout for mushrooms no matter where he might be. Mushroom habitat is so diverse and varied that one might pop up anywhere. If you find yourself behind an erratic driver of an automobile, don’t always assume he may be drinking. There’s a good chance he may be on the look out for mushrooms. We are a menace to public safety while driving an automobile.
I know you are still educating people to this very day. Can you elaborate a little on what you currently doing to help educate people interested in fungi and OMS members?
I have offered a winter mushroom class via email for the past few years. It started with 7 members originally years back. This year, 55 people are currently taking the class. It keeps me very busy and I’m glad. I am an ardent gardener, but one cannot garden in the winter time. I think they should cancel January and February for lack of interest. I detest cold weather!
I did want to clarify that I am very adverse to the course that amateur mushrooming has taken in the past 10-15 years. It is difficult for amateurs and professional mycologist to dance in the same hall. And since mycology is just beginning to come into its own, the professionals actually dominate which direction the hobby takes. Early mushroom books written for the amateur ranks were very comprehensive, despite the use of the Latin terminology involved. Plus, other than spore shapes and measurements, little was offered up microscopically. Eventually, there wasn’t much to write about from a macroscopic approach and with the advent of the electron microscope; and now DNA the approach has gone to the “guts” of the matter, thus name changing using microscopic application is running rampant. The situation drives many would-be mushroom enthusiasts away. Probably less than 10% of the amateur mycophiles even own a microscope, nor do they care to. Unlike other natural science field guides and manuscripts that offer a common name, which is usually listed first in the description, followed by the Latin name. In mushroom field guides, there is no common name at all, but rather just a Latin name, which incidentally, is constantly changing! My comments here could easily slip into four letter words, so I will beg off by simply adding that the situation is ludicrous, and a thorn in the side of amateurism.
What are some of your favorite and least favorite edibles?
You may be surprised to know that I’m not much of a mushroom eater. My wife Phyllis is, and so far, I’m happy to say–I haven’t made any mistakes with the mushrooms I’ve given her to eat. My quest has always been to seek and identify strictly.
My criteria for cooking is that the mushroom is very lightly dusted with flour and sautéed in hot butter or olive oil until the edges become crisp, salted to taste and then eaten. No fancy condiments and no fancy sauces. This is not to say that different recipes might not enhance the flavor, but one would not be getting the TRUE flavor of the mushroom. One could eat an old boot, if enough extras were added. Using the afore mentioned criteria, I would say Lepiota procera would be my favorite. Others, in order would be: Morchella esculenta and elata, Coprinus comatus, pleurotus ostreatus (group), Agaricus arvensis (very strong flavored ), Agaricus rodmani (good flavor and substance), Agaricus campestris (old faithful), Craterellus fallax (especially in egg omlets) Marasmius oreades (again in omlets), Hygrophorus pratensis (bland but good).
The poular ones I don’t like would be Latiporus sulphureus , Grifola frondosa, and yes… the very popular–Cantherellus cibarius. The often prepared Polyporus squammosa (dryads saddle typically cooked in enough gunk to obtain at least some type of flavor) I doubt I would eat even if I were starving. I care for no Boletes other than Gyroporus castaneus, also know as the little chestnut bolete. Having a hollow stem it often escapes the worm invasion that crawl up stems that are stuffed. This little guy has good flavor for a bolete. Those species in the Boletus edulis complex are good but often very wormy, especially B. variipes.
I had the pleasure to see some of your beautiful mushroom sculptures, woodcarvings and paintings. Can you elaborate a little on how this all started and where you have some of display to this very day?
Daphne Vasconselose, who is now Bill Mielke’s wife, made me a sculpture of Strobilomyces floccopus as a thank-you, and I was so impressed by it, I had to try it myself. I like art, and dabble in it in different ways. I like to do “far out” stuff so when something turns me on, I go for it! That’s why I hunt mushrooms, I suppose. One must admit it’s a pretty unusual hobby. I’m into the natural sciences and the fleshy fungi which consumed me over time–mentally parasitized you might say. I enjoyed the outcomes of the sculpture projects and wound up doing over a hundred for club member, Janet Sweigart, many years back. I also did a couple for my friend–the late Ernst Both. These were two new boletes that he had just authored and we gifted him with these sculptures when he gave us a program at one of our forays. Ernst wrote the book “Boletes of North America” (a compendium). There are several of my sculptures at Dawes Arboretum which is now the home base for the “Ohio Mushroom Society”. It’s an on going thing but right now it’s more “on” than “going” I fear. Too many irons in the fire right now.
What are some of your very favorite personal pieces you have done over the years?
I think one I did last year for the “Cleveland Museum of Natural Science”. Probably the reason being it was quite large. It was an 18”x12” cluster of several caps of Laetiporus sulphureus (Sulphur shelf). It was a pretty massive structure to say the least.
Are you currently working on any pieces?
The set of models I’m working at now (the ones you have the pictures of for the gallery section of this interview) will be a floating assemblage for any group who would like to display them, or I may just house them at one of the nearby nature centers. Our local library wants to display them in the very near future. I like the models that I’ve mounted with a natural habitat base. They appear a bit more realistic, but like many of my projects, they go wanting to be finished.
I have noticed personal journals you sketch a lot and seem to have a lot of fun with it. Can you tell us little more of how this started and what motivates the work?
I’m a retired horticulturist, mostly greenhouse floriculture, so I enjoy landscaping my property in different ways. I suppose that’s another form of art, too. I built a ten foot windmill from driftwood for my daughter that finds its way into her front lawn every summer. It’s very unique and one of a kind. It’s a weather vane type of structure and lends itself to wind direction just like the big ones you see on farm properties. I’m pretty proud of that effort.
I was into building odd ball bird houses for awhile. All of them were made from slab wood that I bought by the truckload. I heat my house with a wood fireplace insert and certain pieces of the slab wood were great for building rustic, natural looking birdhouses. I went so far as to build a grandfathers clock from that wondrous slab pile.
I paint, too, but I think I’m better at painting a house than I am at painting a picture. I envy those who can sit and sketch a portrait; I never could do that. Sometimes I think I’m a pretty good artist, until I watch someone who really is good. It makes me want to put my brush away and take up some other form of art. I think everyone has some sort of art form they practice, a special talent they have that they do well with their hands and mind. I guess it depends on what one considers art.
Any closing statements you would like to share to all the fungiphiles out there?
I didn’t mean for this to become a novel but never ask an old man to talk about something he loves to do or there seems no end to the story, however, I feel it is time to end this one. Keep shroomin’ and remember the old adage: “When in doubt–throw it out!”
Dick Grimm with one of his beautiful wood carvings in his backyard, this year.
Enjoy a retrospective of Dick and his immense work here at this link below.