As kids, cousins Luke and Edmund Couture spent a lot of time in the woodshop on Luke’s parents’ farm, in Benton. They taught themselves to carve spoons, spatulas, and coasters, and they started selling their work at the Common Ground Country Fair when they were 12. These days, the 22-year-old cousins still spend most of their time in that woodshop, having taken their woodworking full-time. And besides making utensils, they’ve launched a more esoteric endeavor: mushroom sculptures.
Their fungi figurines came about a couple of years ago, after the cousins (and besties) got into mycology. Luke and Edmund started by foraging for mushrooms in the woods on their family’s Benton property, then began growing their own: oysters, shiitakes, lion’s manes. Last winter, while playing around in the shop, Luke carved a small mushroom out of wood, and it hit him: why not combine their love of woodworking and mushrooms? The cousins registered a domain and opened Nature’s Functions, an online marketplace for their handcrafted wares, including, wooden ’shrooms of all shapes and sizes.
Now, the family woodlot is not only a place to go mushrooming but to sustainably source materials. The cousins harvest cherry, birch, maple, cedar, and pine from trees that would otherwise die or rot, and they also collect deadwood from the forest floor. Back at the shop, they use Luke’s grandfather’s old draw knives to debark, angle grinders to remove excess material, Kutzall grinding bits to add detail, and a homemade drum sander to smooth out rough edges. They finish each mushroom with a linseed-oil rub, bringing out the color of the wood grains — or else Edmund’s girlfriend, Sydney Bouchard, paints them, using realistic shades of red, white, and yellow. The caps and stems of each mushroom are made separately before being joined with wood glue, and the final products range from a few inches to nearly three feet tall.
Each sculpture takes anywhere from 45 minutes to several hours to complete, but each is a joint effort — Edmund might carve the cap and Luke the stem, or vice versa. “We wanted to make money while being outside, doing the stuff we like doing,” Luke says. “This is a way we can make a living working with nature instead of against it.”
Tell Us More Luke and Edmund Couture
Why forage all of your materials?
We love working with natural materials. It gives us a relationship with, and a use for, things in our environment. We grew up on farms our whole lives, so we’ve always been working with nature. Our name, Nature’s Functions, ties into sustainability and working with nature — you don’t want to do anything that’s going to harm where you live, where you’re getting your food, or where your animals live and eat.
What’s next for you?
We’d like to start making more exact replicas of different kinds of mushrooms — morels, the cortinarius species, and other amanitas. Stone is another one of nature’s materials that we love, and we want to start carving bowls, lamps, and other kitchen products. We’re also looking to get into jewelry making. We’ve started collecting minerals and using our finds to create unique pieces.
What’s so special about making mushrooms?
We love making spoons, but we’ve been doing those for a long time, and making a bunch can be a headache. Mushrooms are much more enjoyable because you can see it all come together. Most of the stuff we make mushrooms out of, people would burn in the fire, but we’ll take beautiful, twisted pieces that have just been hanging out for years and turn them into art.