‘Brian Blomerth’s Mycelium Wassonii’ is a colourful tribute to two mushroom pioneers

The latest addition to a vivid oeuvre, Brian Blomerth’s Mycelium Wassonii is a fascinating account of an influential fungal partnership.

In the introduction to Brian Blomerth’s Mycelium Wassonii (Anthology Editions), Paul Stamets details the unlikely pairing of R. Gordon Wasson and Valentina (Tina) Pavlovna. She Russian and he American, they had divergent approaches to the humble mushroom:

“Tina had collected, studied, and consumed wild mushrooms from an early age. Gordon, on the other hand, was initially appalled by Tina’s enthusiasm for fungi; he associated mushrooms with death, decomposition, and the dark, dank, dangerous underground.” 

Despite this initial hurdle, they brought mushrooms to widespread attention through their loving partnership and a complementary understanding. Through his kaleidoscopic and heartwarming interpretation, Brian Blomerth sheds light on the tale of this adventurous couple.

Brian Blomerth
Author and illustrator Brian Blomerth. Photo: Dondre Stuetley

Two years ago, the artist also paid tribute to the story of Albert Hofmann, the Swiss LSD pioneer (incidentally, Blomerth points out Hofmann joined Wasson on a trip to Mexico to explore psychotropic plants). Mycelium Wassonii reintroduces readers to Blomerth’s anthropomorphised dogs as all characters. We meet Gordon and Valentina in 1927 as a newlywed couple on their honeymoon in the Catskill Mountains, in Upstate New York.

Brian Blomerth's Mycelium Wassonii

Through the extraordinarily rendered portraits of these characters and the surrounding landscape, we find Tina schooling Gordon on the virtues of the wonder-fungus, recreating favourite dishes from her childhood in Russia. And despite his initial reluctance, Gordon becomes a fan and eventually, the mushroom’s most ardent champion.

Brian Blomerth's Mycelium Wassonii

Gordon’s tireless research eventually leads him to discover the mushroom’s psychedelic power, taking the couple to Mexico. The ‘therapeutic’ aspects of the fungus become more widely known, which exposes several of the book’s important themes. What was largely medicinal for the Mazatec people led to an invasion from American beatniks. What role does cultural appropriation play in the popularisation of natural psychedelics?

Brian Blomerth's Mycelium Wassonii

If you’re interested in exploring that history and understanding the deeper role that these substances play in particular cultures, Brian Blomerth’s Mycelium Wassonii is an essential read (especially on this National Mushroom Day!). Beyond that, it’s a spellbinding account of inspiration, underpinned by a completely wholesome — yet heartbreaking — love saga. And as always with Brian Blomerth, each dazzling illustration is a story in itself — you’ll enjoy going back to this book again and again.

Brian Blomerth's Mycelium Wassonii

Brian Blomerth’s Mycelium Wassonii is out on November 30 via Anthology Editions.

Brian Blomerth's Mycelium Wassonii