The Mysterious Nature of Fungi

by Lugene Bruno


This exhibit gives an overview of these mysterious organisms that are found almost everywhere on this planet and are the cause of both bliss and blight. Selections from the Hunt Institute Art and Library collections illustrate subjects such as misconceptions; characteristics that create delirium, disease or death; wild and cultivated edibles; intriguing structures that quickly morph, disintegrate or use propulsion to release spores; and beneficial and parasitic relationships with other living organisms. Whatever your interest, we hope that you will come away with a new fascination and respect for fungi.

From the human perspective, fungi and their reproductive spores exist in the air we breathe, on the surfaces we touch, in the soil upon which we stand and within the oceans we traverse. Fungi play an essential role on this planet by decomposing organic debris and exchanging nutrients with plants, thus allowing all living organisms to thrive. Fungi can cause or cure disease, and the fruiting bodies can bring sustenance or death. Becoming the 5th kingdom in 1969, they are the most diverse and the least understood of all organisms, and countless remain to be discovered and described.

Opening reception

The opening reception on 17 September (5–7 p.m.) is open to the public. At 5:30 p.m. the curators will give a short introduction to the exhibition in the gallery.

Cèilidh Weekend

We will also open on Saturday and Sunday, 10–11 October, 1–4 p.m., during Carnegie Mellon University’s Cèilidh Weekend festivities. On Saturday join our curator throughout the afternoon for tours of the exhibition. On Sunday (1:30–2:30 p.m.) Richard Jacob, a biochemist by trade and president of the Western Pennsylvania Mushroom Club, will present the talk “Mushroom clubs: Citizen science in action!”

Cabinet of curiosities

The Cabinet of curiosities in the Hunt Institute lobby will display lithographs from a limited-edition portfolio in our Library collection. The 20th-century American avant-garde composer, writer and visual artist John Cage (1912–1992) also was an avid, amateur mushroom forager who became so enthusiastic about the subject that he and his friend, visual artist Lois Long (1918–2005), co-founded the New York Mycological Society in 1962. Together they published The Mushroom Book (1972), with the taxonomic assistance of the mycologist Alexander H. Smith (1904–1986).


The exhibition will be on display on the 5th floor of the Hunt Library building at Carnegie Mellon University and will be open to the public free of charge. Hours: Monday–Friday, 9 a.m.–noon and 1–5 p.m.; Sunday, 1–4 p.m. (except 22 November and 26–29 November). Because our hours of operation are occasionally subject to change, please call or email before your visit to confirm. For further information, contact the Hunt Institute at 412-268-2434.


  • Boletus calopus Fr. [Boletus calopus Persoon, Boletaceae], watercolor on paper by Aurel Dermek (1925–1989), 1965, for Dermek and Albert Pilát, Poznávajme Huby (Bratislava, Slovenskej Akadémie Vied, 1974, pl. 58), 30 × 21 cm, HI Art accession no. 6084.02, © 1989 Estate of the artist, All rights reserved.
  • French and Italian Truffles [Tuber melanosporum Vittadini and Tuber magnatum pico Vittadini, Tuberaceae], watercolor on paper by Dorothee de Sampayo Garrido-Nijgh (1941–), 2009, 33.5 × 39 cm, HI Art accession no. 7782, © 2009 Dorothee de Sampayo Garrido-Nijgh, All rights reserved.
  • [Pilobolus Tode, Pilobolaceae], watercolor on paper by Carmen Sylvia Zocchio-Fidalgo (1941–), 54.5 × 40.5 cm, HI Art accession no. 4830, © Carmen Sylvia Zocchio-Fidalgo, All rights reserved.