Portland is home to some of the state’s most impressive museums. From art to science to children’s curiosity, there are collections catered to all. But what about adult curiosity?
There’s a reason why the Rose City’s mantra is “Keep Portland Weird,” and artist Jim Stewart is helping carry that torch with the Zymoglyphic Museum. Housed in his Mt. Tabor garage, the gallery is a collection of artistic oddities and a look into the eccentric mind of its creator.
If you’re wondering what zymoglyphic means, it has two different formal definitions:
1. Of, or pertaining to, images of fermentation, specifically the solid residue of creative fermentation on natural objects
2. The collection and arrangement of objects, primarily either natural or weathered by natural forces, for poetic effect
But if you ask Stewart where the word came from, he’ll answer simply: “I made it up.”
The museum’s origin can be tracked back to its creator’s youth. When Stewart was 10-years-old, he collected rocks, bird nests, fossils, arrowheads, and marine animals. In 2000, the museum entered its larval state as a 8′ x 12′ shed in the driveway of the artist’s home in San Mateo, CA. In 2015, the museum moved to Portland, and a year later, it opened in the format it is today.
Upon entering the small art space, visitors have the chance to explore five different carefully curated collections of specimens and artifacts of the Zymoglyphic Region: Natural History, The Rust Age, The Age of Wonder, The Era of Oriental Influence, and The Modern Age. From flightless spinybirds to eyeball plants, it’s sometimes hard to distinguish where nature ends and art begins in Stewart’s work, and that’s what he prefers.
“[The museum] is really an alter ego, a way to integrate all my various interests into a single piece of creative self-expression that allows other people to literally enter into it,” the artist explains. “That makes it a good way to meet people with similar interests!”
And though the museum’s curator is the first to admit his work perfectly fits the “Keep Portland Weird” motif, his goal is to help people see past that upon visiting. “My hope is that people will be attracted to it on those terms and discover that it is more than just a collection of oddities,” Stewart explains.
As word of the Zymoglyphic Museum continues to grow, so does the gallery itself.
“I’m working on adding a library, specializing in books on curiosity cabinets, museums, surrealism, and other topics that have inspired me,” Stewart divulges, “and also a gallery of works by artists that fit the theme.”
The Zymoglyphic Museum is open on the second and fourth Sundays of every month and entry is free to the public.