South Kingstown Artist Emily Quillen Grows Handmade Ornament Business

The folklore behind Festive Fungi

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Mushrooms are having a moment. New York City recently hosted a Fungus Festival that drew over 1,000 enthusiasts. Research touting the benefits of psilocybin is now mainstream. Umami is all the rage in foodie circles.

Closer to home, South Kingstown artist Emily Quillen launched Festive Fungi in time for the holiday season. Her red and white-freckled mushroom ornaments, created from upcycled Patrón corks, add extra magic to the tree. “I love making these happy little things,” she says.

The RISD-trained graphic designer and painter worked in Boston as a book cover artist for Houghton Mifflin before transitioning into the paper industry, crafting greeting cards, wedding invitations, and other personalized paper goods.  

“I did a lot of trend work for the greeting card company,” she says. “I’d do
presentations on what was popular in the marketplace, identifying holiday and seasonal trends.” Woodland themes were consistently popular across multiple genres, from wedding to baby.  

During the pandemic, Quillen was hanging out on her couch, staring at a decorative bowl of corks on the coffee table. A dome-shaped tequila cork caught her eye, and she realized it made a great mushroom. Itching for a creative project, she dug out her paints and crafted a prototype, and Festive Fungi was sprouted.

At first, Quillen didn’t consider selling her handicrafts; for her, they simply made a fun holiday gift for friends and family. But the recipients raved about the ‘shrooms, so she began investigating the market for nature-themed ornaments. After a few Google searches, she stumbled on some fortuitous folklore.

“In German, Austrian, and Slavic cultures, it’s traditional to gift mushroom ornaments during the holidays,” she says, explaining that the mushrooms, which are considered good luck, are re-gifted to friends and family at the new year. Each of her Festive Fungi comes with a card explaining the custom.

Quillen and her husband aren’t knocking back tequila to keep her fledgling company stocked with the whimsical mushrooms. She found a source that sells old Patrón corks in bulk. (“Yup, people actually sell this stuff,” she responds to this reporter’s incredulity, noting she cleans the corks before painting, though the tequila scent can linger.) She’s growing the product line to include key fobs, fridge magnets, and indoor garden charms, with seasonal colors coming soon. But the red and white fairytale mushrooms, which are the traditional for holiday gifting, remain the anchor combo.

Festive Fungi couldn’t have come at a better time for Quillen. She was laid off from the greeting card company at the end of 2019 and then was dealt a devastating blow when her father passed away in January 2020. “I felt really off track about what to do next, and this fun thing grew so organically,” she says, crediting the wee sprouts for helping cheer her through her grief. “The reaction from people is wonderful. It’s nothing but smiles.”

 

Find Festive Fungi at Mills Creek in Charlestown and The Store at All That Matters in Wakefield or online at FestiveFungi.com.

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