Hidden Threads: Fungal-Plant Partnerships


Mixed media on dyed linen

145" long x 79" high x 45"w

Photos by Cindy Trim  


Project Statement

Most people are familiar with mushrooms, the fruiting bodies of Fungi. However, underfoot and out of sight, fungi enrich and support the life of every ecosystem. Forming a vast network one cell layer thick, fungal nets stabilize the soil, decompose and recycle plant matter and have evolved a sophisticated set of survival tools. In addition, fungi break down and make available chemicals like phosphorous and nitrogen that help plants flourish.  My project focuses on these plant-fungi partnerships in both oak groves and restored tall grass prairies. Drawing on  inspiration from Islamic Geometry and the decorative work of architect  Alfred Waterhouse at the British Museum of Natural History, I have created a textile installation that expresses these relationships. The work was inspired by research conducted at The Field Museum, the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Rug, embroidered and beaded, expressing fungal-oak partnerships

I would like to express my appreciation to the Office of the Provost at Columbia College Chicago for helping to fund this project.

Thank you also to following people. The contributions of these scientists, and the institutions they work with enriched and inspired this project.  

Dr. Patrick Leacock, Adjunct Curator, The Field Museum

Dr. Greg Mueller, Chief Scientist and Vice President of Science, Chicago Botanic Garden

Dr. Peter Avis, Department Chair, Associate Professor, Indiana University Northwest  

Dr. Louise Egerton-Warburton, Conservation Scientist, Chicago Botanic Garden

Wyatt Gaswick, Collections Assistant, The  Field Museum

Special thanks to Christine Nezgoda, Collections Manager and Gretchen Rings, Reference Librarian at The Field Museum.  I was also inspired by the work of Dr. Reinhard Agerer whose book Color Atlas of Ectomycorrhrizae was a revelation.                  

Detail of rug depicting mycorrhizal fungi attached to new oak roots

Beading, embroidery,  and hand made lace on dyed linen backed with silk