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Liking the Lichen: The Moss Hunter’s secret oasis

Moss is trodden underfoot, hidden in the damp, shady parts of the forest and largely disregarded by the average man.

Thankfully, Henry Clarke is no average man. Known in some circles as simply “The Moss Hunter,” Clarke has transformed his yard into an outdoor moss gallery that makes use of all five senses.

A master ceramic tile glazer by trade, Clarke came to Oxford from New York City seven years ago. Once he became acquainted with the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council and its members, Clarke said he wanted to expand his repertoire.

“I came to Oxford, and everybody was doing rustic, rustic, rustic. So I said, ‘Let me get into the game,’” Clarke said. “I started out with the wood sculptures, but they kept falling down. Then, a guy brought me some firewood, and I started stacking it up, but it needed something else. So I started getting the moss and putting it on top of it, and I said, ‘That’s a fresh thing.’”

Clarke started working with moss one year ago, and since then, he said he’s found real joy in watching it go through various life stages, from bright green through rigor mortis and green again.

All of his moss is sourced from various locations in Lafayette County, and even though most people don’t realize it, Clarke said there are so many different types of moss and lichen to work with. To create a piece, whether he’s applying the moss to furniture, a tree or the ground, Clarke explained, the process is fairly simple.

“It’s just like papier mache,” he said. “You take the moss, and then you put mud on the bottom of it, and then you just put it on the surface of what you’re making. The mud becomes like glue.”

In addition to being pretty to look at, Clarke said he feels as though his moss gallery is a sensory paradise. Walking barefoot along the pathway in the oasis, listening to the birds or even reaching a meditative state while looking at one of the miniature worlds he creates are all beneficial for the body and mind, he said.

A trip to the House on the Hill Enchanted Oasis, as Clarke’s wife Toni calls it, is free. Guests can even learn the art of moss gardening from Clarke himself. Most importantly, Clarke said he wants people to know that anyone can start and maintain a moss garden.

“When I started doing research on this – there’s a lady called Mossin’ Annie who’s very into it – I looked more and more and there are actually people who eat this stuff for the health benefits. I haven’t done that, but I’ve been around it so much and I get so much energy, I can’t explain it,” Clarke said. “I’m a cancer survivor, too. Anybody can do this. The mental health benefits alone, keeping you busy and keeping your mind off of that, it’ll bring you through it.”

Clarke said he often thinks about the words of his friend, Kaye Bryant, who told him, ‘Anything is possible with God,’ because that mantra gave him an incentive to live his life to the fullest.

As the moss gallery draws more visitors, Clarke said he hopes to host people with special needs and school groups, just to bring joy to them and see the way they react to the craft.

Many people who pay a visit to the gallery even get to leave with a souvenir, he said.

“I want to get people involved. I want to get those with special needs here, just to see what will happen when they get their hands on it, that sensory stimulation,” he said. “Everything here is alive, so I don’t call people fans – I call them my surrogates.”

Currently, the oasis covers a small hillside on the edge of Clarke’s property, and features everything from a Bigfoot silhouette (complete with dry ice effects) to furniture to an homage to Ole Miss. His latest project involves incorporating mosses and ferns on top of reclaimed railroad ties to create a miniature wonderland of jurassic proportions.

The gallery is a living entity and ever-growing, Clarke said.

“I want to take it up a notch, because I want it to seem like a fairyland. I want it to be even more green and lush,” he said. “When I feel it, I get so emotional about it. But I’m just a vessel. I want this to be a place people come to see.”

To tour the moss gallery, send an email to themosshunter@gmail.com or call 662-715-9597.