Wednesday, February 21, 2018

What is it like to be married to the Zymoglyphic Museum?

Jim tells me “what does your wife/Judy/Mrs. Stewart think about the Zymoglyphic Museum?” is in his top 10 most frequently asked questions. Here is an effort to explain, in mere words, what the museum means to me.

By the way - I am Judy/Jude/Judith Hoffman - not Mrs. Stewart. Nothing wrong with the Stewarts, I love them dearly. But when I divorced my first husband I decided if I remarried I would not take my husband’s name again. It’s anachronistic in my opinion.

In 2011 I made a pinhole film camera called the Zymo 127, took photos, and made an artist’s book titled Spirits Under Glass to house the photos. Spirits Under Glass and the Zymo 127 now reside in the Zymoglyphic Museum.

When I completed the Zymo 127 project I wrote:

“The Zymoglyphic Museum
We all know, at least in theory, that life is not static. Change occurs constantly and the world is new again and again. The Zymoglyphic Museum is the perfect example of this. Its displays are constantly evolving. The museum staff doesn't try to fight this trend, instead they embrace it. Many of the displays contain objects that are rusty, or made of dirt or decaying objects. There is no effort to stabilize the displays. Things decay as time passes. Little pools of rust or dirt fall around the base of some of the objects and become as much a part of the museum as the original object. Dust, cobwebs and blown-in leaves accumulate.

When it's not open for visitors, the Zymoglyphic Museum is a dark and shadowy place. Light comes in a single window and illuminates a jumble of mysterious objects waiting to be placed in their display cases. With their interior lights off, the dioramas are dark windows, with shadowy figures behind. (img274lookingtowardwindow.psd) or kachina photo?

Over the years the museum has taken on its own personality, just as each person does. It is made of some deep thoughts, some random junk and some accumulated stuff that may or may not be valuable. It is a place to meditate on life and death. The exhibits are not about "Xenophora" for example, but about how life progresses. It's wonders and mysteries, how we change over the years, becoming both wiser and a little crusty, and how even the lowliest insect or a decayed leaf can be beautiful and mysterious.”

My take on it now: I like it very much - it’s magical and mysterious, dreamy and ugly/beautiful. I don’t mind the dead animals or bones. My major objection for years was that I have an allergy to dust and mold. Some times of the year my reaction can be pretty bad. When we lived in San Mateo there were fewer displays. The dioramas and a few free-standing figures were housed in Jim’s study, a spare bedroom. When I learned of my allergies, I persuaded him to get a garden shed to house the museum. I felt bad about it. Although he agreed, he seemed to feel rejected. Things did work out well in the end. As the museum space increased the number of displays increased. For years it was Jim's main weekend project. Unfortunately over the years more and more random stuff accumulated in the museum prep area in our attached garage, hence the need for a large detached garage here in Portland.

I am a student of the Zymoglyphic way, which is an intuitive thing. I may never truly get it. I know it helps if things are weird, decaying or unidentifiable. Still I often pick up things when we are out walking and show them to Jim just to have him put them back. There is an undefined criteria each object must meet.

It is true that when we met I had boxes marked “skulls” on my shelves of art materials. (Rabbit skulls) Also some mummified mice and other strange things I had been attracted to. Of course they all joined the museum collection long ago.

I must also confess to some envy - Jim set up shop, started telling people about the museum and they started coming. Word spreads, it has become more and more popular. We have been in Portland 3 1/2 years and he seems to average 100 visitors a month. I would love to put my books somewhere and have that kind of audience. Of course I am also very happy for him, and proud of his success. The museum is a one-of-a-kind place that needs to be seen. And you can call me Mrs. Zymoglyphic if you want to.


coolsnags said...

A nicely written essay, Judy. Maybe rededicate a corner to book arts!

Judith Hoffman said...

I may have a key to the building, I could sneak in a night at put some books on a shelf. Assuming I can find an empty one!

Amanda said...

What a fascinating thing to have at your home! My husband is a collector too - French ephemera mostly May ‘68 ephemera and Situationist tracts. For years I have been trying to keep a lid on it, but I think your approach of just letting it grow until it is museum size might be a wiser one. I doubt I will ever get to Portland but if we do, I will make sure we visit. And you can definitely get out your artists ‘ books on that occasion. : )

Judith Hoffman said...

I must admit - I had to look up May ‘68. I vaguely remember news about the strikes, etc. That seems like a fascinating collection. I am a huge fan of collections - they tell us so much about a person. I would be thrilled if you came to the museum. And would be delighted to show you my books.

Amanda said...

I’m not surprised you had to look up May 68 - most people in Australia would have to also. Of course, any French people who find out Ian’s interest immediately love him! There is a small circle of enthusiasts and I must say that some of the posters have become quite iconic. This May is the 60th anniversary and Ian is planning a series of blog posts highlighting the posters. Of course the whole Zymoglyphic Museum concept seems just as mysterious and pstuse to me - but fascinating!

Judith Hoffman said...

what's the url for Ian's blog? I'll have to check it out. I think the Zymoglyphic Museum is deliberately obtuse in some ways. (-: Jim is working on an "Is It Art?" article right now - I'll post a link if it gets finished. I think it's his manifesto.

Amanda said...

Ian’s blog is He hasn’t posted anything new this year but has already been sorting out his posts for May this year. I will try to remember to let you know once he starts, but I expect it will be on May 1st. I’d love to read Jim’s manifesto when it’s done. I ‘d love to have a manifesto, but I am too easily influenced and never see things in black and white, so I’d be changing it every month or so!

Judith Hoffman said...

That’s amazing - some of the posters are really outstanding graphically. I can see the appeal. And to have a photo showing the poster “in action” makes you feel so connected to the events. I was 23 then and so focused on my little world I wasn’t paying any attention. I’ll add his blog to my Feedly. And a whole blog devoted to one topic. What a focused guy he is. I’m with you- my brain jumps all over the place, I couldn’t have a manifesto either. I’ll let you know when Jim’s is ready. I don’t know how he will publish it.