An Identity Ecosystem Takes Root at Moravian Academy

May 21, 2024

If you find yourself walking around on the Merle-Smith Campus in the next few weeks, you may notice a curious and colorful outcropping of mushrooms growing near the Rose Garden. But these mushrooms aren’t just any mushrooms! They are the living embodiment of the stories of the Seniors in the Story and Poetry classes in our Identity Ecosystem project.

For our Identity Ecosystem project, we worked with mixed media fiber artist and MA alumna Mallory Zondag ‘12 to design and felt together our own mushrooms that reflect who we are. At the end of our sessions, we combined all of our mushrooms together in our art installation outside, nestled in the nook of two trees off of the walkway down to Couch. 


Now, why mushrooms? And why fiber art?  It begins with our school history, actually.

IMG_2854-1Remember our founder, Benigna? Her grandson was Lewis David de Schweinitz and he was a botanist and mycologist from right here in Bethlehem. Mycology is the study of fungi. De Schweinitz has been called the “Father of American Mycology” and is credited with discovering over 1,000 new species of fungi in America. He wrote several books and articles on the subject and created many watercolors to document and extensively catalog all of the fungi, mosses, ferns, lichens, and flowering plants he came across. 

So now you know ‘why mushrooms’! And so, ‘why fiber art’?

Our school has a rich history with the textile arts, especially at the Moravian Seminary for Girls.  Our history of needlework and embroidery has its roots in the early years of our school, where it was considered both a useful domestic skill and a means of artistic expression. Textile work as a part of the art curriculum continued at our school until the '50s and '60s, and resurfaced later when embroidered chair covers were made in commemoration of another school milestone. You can see some of those embroidered chairs, in fact, in the Snyder Conference Room. Our identity ecosystem project turns to the fiber arts, as our school has many times in its past, so that students have the opportunity to express themselves artistically and to understand themselves in an unique way.

With a project that celebrates the power of storytelling both as communication and connection, we weren’t able to do this Identity Ecosystem project alone. Along with Mallory Zondag’s expertise, we called upon another alum, Kareem Rabbat ‘16, to help us understand more about the mighty fungal kingdom and the study of mycology. Kareem Rabbat zoomed with our classes to support our project. Currently working in New Mexico for the Indian Health Service as an Environmental Engineer, Kareem is an Eclectic Engineer that is dedicated to creating a future without pollution or waste. Kareem’s Mycology Monday posts on Instagram drew us back to him and his work with the miraculous and marvelous fungal kingdom. 

Our final inspiration comes from the book Entangled Life, by British biologist Merlin Sheldrake. We were captivated by Sheldrake’s book as he explores the fascinating world of fungi, revealing their intelligence, impact on ecosystems, and their role in shaping our understanding of life itself. Fungi challenge our set notions of “identity, autonomy, and independence” when they communicate and connect with other living creatures. Sheldrake writes that we may begin to see our lives and even “ourselves emerg[ing] from a complex tangle of relationships only now becoming known.” Our stories we tell each other can do this, too! So, when you see our outcropping of mushrooms on campus, have fun discovering the stories that they are telling!


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