I remember one time I dragged my brother into the woods with me, spending over 4 hours picking king boletes, because they were literally everywhere and we couldn’t possibly leave them there! Our parents thought we got lost, because I must have been around 13 years old, which would make my brother 7 at the time, and we had no cell phones back then. We each came back with a giant woven basket meant for picking potatoes filled to the brim with mushrooms.
I owe much of my mushroom knowledge and passion to my grandma, who loved the woods. Mushroom hunting was not only a fun pastime, but a necessity when she was growing up as the daughter of a wood ranger in the 1920’s. They lived in a lodge tucked away in the woods behind the Renaissance chateau Červená Lhota, then occupied by the Austrian Schönburg-Hartenstein aristocracy. While they were not poor, foraging for mushrooms brought a nice variety to the table when meat was scarce.
My grandma in the woods when she was young (ca. 1947) and then about 70 years later in our kitchen at the summer house, holding a giant king bolete.
My passion for photography also began at the summer house, when I started photographing the flowers in our garden. During my sophomore year of high school, when I was a foreign exchange student in California, I took my first photography class and bought my first digital camera. When I returned, I had my first photography exhibit in a local theater. For the next two years, I attended Townshend International School and completed graduation exams from 5 subjects, including Art History, which also involved presenting an original photography project.
Our family summer house in South Bohemia, Czech Republic.
After graduation, I moved to the United States to attend Cottey College, a small women’s college in Missouri, where I pursued my studies in journalism, photography, and design. Graduating with a two-year degree, I transferred to Chatham University in Pittsburgh, PA, where photography took a backseat as I focused on journalism and design. After graduation, I worked for a year as a Communication Director for a local nonprofit. At that point, I was at a crossroads: return to the Czech Republic because my student permit to work was about to expire or go to graduate school and get another student visa. I applied to one graduate program at Carnegie Mellon University, and to my disbelief, I got in. For the next two years, I studied design thinking and human-centered design, graduating with a Master of Design degree in Communication Planning and Information Design in 2011.
My graduate internship at Carnegie Mellon Software Engineering Institute turned into a job, and a work visa turned into a green card in 2016. Moving through various design roles at the SEI, I eventually became a User Experience (UX) Strategist and Team Lead for a small team of designers, ensuring the software systems we create meet the needs of our stakeholders and are easy to use.
My mom and grandma in the woods.
For a long time, my design career was my main priority, but in 2017 it stopped being enough. Living 7,000 kilometers away in Pittsburgh, PA, I felt disconnected from my family and my home country, the Czech Republic. I missed our summer house, the woods around it, and mushroom foraging with my mom and grandma. To reconnect with what I loved, I grabbed my camera (which I haven’t touched in years), started hiking in the local park, and began posting my photos to my new mushroom Instagram account @fungiwoman. Fast-forward to five years later, with over 65K followers on my account, it turns out many of you like mushrooms as much as I do and I have found my purpose again.
In 2020, I established this website to do more than just Instagram posts. I designed a set of mushroom greeting cards and began producing a wall calendar every year. I also enjoy cooking and eating mushrooms so check out my recipes. And there is so much more I have planned.
FUNGIWOMAN is the synergy of everything I’ve always loved, lost for a while, and found again. Now I want to share it with you and perhaps inspire you to do the same. Let’s go explore the woods, learn about mushrooms, take stunning photos, cook with wild foods, and explore new places! Let's enjoy life.