Mary Ida Henrikson

Mary Ida Henrikson. Photo courtesy of Felix Wong.


Daily News Staff Writer

Mary Ida Henrikson is no stranger to Ketchikan's outdoor wonders, and has turned her appreciation and knowledge of trees — and how they communicate with each other, as well as with her during her time living in Alaska — into the latest exhibit at the Main Street Gallery.

"Mycelium, Earth's Grid" is set to open on Friday at the gallery, and features about 20 colorful "conceptual" oil-on-canvas paintings of how Henrikson interprets mycelium, the underground body of fungus that grows beneath trees, the artist told the Daily News during a recent interview.

"They're about mycelium, which is the tendrils that are under the forest floor," Henrikson said. "They create the communications and the web of the forest. So trees can talk to each other through this conduit. Of course, they speak their language, not ours."

She emphasized that her paintings are not illustrations of mycelium, but how she perceives it.

"When I say they're conceptual, they have to do with how the forest makes me feel and how living in the Tongass for so many years ... I've come to realize that the forest was speaking to me in some kind of way as it does with anybody else who hike around this area," she said. "So that's what the show is about. It's about how the Tongass speaks to me."

Henrikson recalled that she first learned about mycelium from an officer onboard the Alaska Marine Highway System (Henrikson also spent time working with AMHS).

"He said, 'Mary, you're already painting this,'" Henrikson explained. "You have to know what you're painting. So he suggested two books for me. One of them was 'Mycelium Running.' The other is one that I've found recently, which is called 'Finding the Mother Tree.'"

Henrikson described both books as scholarly texts that explain how the trees use mycelium to communicate.

Her inspiration to turn mycelium into the foundation of her newest exhibit was that she "thought it was important and timely."

"At first, it was so exciting to me because I had never heard of it," she elaborated. "And I'm constantly amazed by what the Tongass is giving up. The secrets it’s giving up for its own survival."

It took about two years to create all the pieces featured in her latest exhibit.

"One has to apply for a spot at the Main Street Gallery, and they're coveted," she said. "So I have been working on this project for about a year and a half."

Originally, she was slated to show "Mycelium, Earth's Grid" in September, Henrikson switched spots with Laurel Shepard Kvale and Sandy Shepard, the mother-daughter artist duo whose "Two Generations in Wax" exhibit was on display in September.

"And I glad I did (trade), because I've completed more work and defined the images," Henrikson noted.

The exhibit's opening reception will be held from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Friday at the Main Street Gallery. On Nov. 6, Henrikson will give an artist presentation titled "The Magic of Mycelium Revealed" from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. Attendees are asked to wear masks in the gallery.

Henrikson also has shown exhibits in past years at the Main Street Gallery. She noted that she has worked with AMHS and the Alaska Pipeline, and also taught college classes in Southern California and Central Washington. Henrikson also has traveled to Hawaii and New Zealand.

In Ketchikan, one of her favorite places to take a walk is around Ward Lake.

"It's fabulous," she said.