Our origins begin with MycoWorks co-founder and San Francisco artist Philip Ross, who has worked at the intersection of art, design and biotechnology for over three decades.
Phil began cultivating mycelium as a material for art and design in the 1990s, inspired by the beauty and life cycles of mushrooms. A skilled chef and naturalist, Phil’s field work in mycology began in the woods of upstate New York, where he first learned to forage for wild mushrooms. His subsequent work as a hospice caregiver during the HIV crisis in San Francisco introduced him to the immune-supporting benefits of reishi mushrooms, which he began growing for medicinal use. He discovered a rich diversity in form, texture and color—expressions of reishi’s dynamic response to the everyday forces of light, air, gravity and temperature. Phil soon began working with reishi as a material for creating sculptures, bringing culinary precision and a naturalist’s keen eye to perfect his “biotechniques” for growing living works of art.
Phil’s pioneering materials research launched the field of mycotecture, a term he coined in 2008 to describe the art of designing and building with mycelium. His mycelium artworks and installations have been exhibited internationally at MoMA, Kunsthalle Düsseldorf and The Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art, and his patents and publications are foundational to the field of mycelium material science. When worldwide interest in Phil’s material inventions brought opportunities to partner with brands seeking innovative, sustainable materials, Phil invited his long-time artistic collaborator, Sophia Wang, to start a company.
Raised in a family of molecular cell biologists and trained as an artist and writer, Sophia’s cultural fluency spans the living systems of nature and the aesthetics of visual arts, dance and literature. While writing her doctoral dissertation on epic poetry and advancing a dance and performance practice, Sophia had worked with Phil as a thought partner and producer for a series of public programs exploring the culture and history of bioreactor design. She first encountered Phil’s mycelium sculptures in 2007 and recognized the potential of mycelium as a living material with endless aesthetic expressions.
She also understood the role that art and storytelling would play in communicating mycelium’s potential to the world.
Sophia stepped forward to lead their efforts to bring mycelium materials to the wider world, and MycoWorks was born in 2013. Sophia, Phil and their small team of artists and fabricators converted Phil’s San Francisco art studio into a workshop laboratory and began advancing Phil’s biotechniques into the technology that would become Fine Mycelium.