I am a big fan of the website Atlas Obscura– it’s a compendium of strange places, and a great way to learn esoteric things about your city. We took a short trip up to San Mateo, California today to see about the Zymoglyphic Museum, open only a few days a year. As the intro photograph says, it’s in a suburban cul-de-sac. A small, weathered sign reading, “MUSEUM” points the way to a shed housing a strange assemblage of taxidermy, miniatures and dioramas with strange descriptions. Artist Jim Stewart has created a dusty, strange world of Frankenstein’d creatures and ephemeral art. When we asked if he did taxidermy, he said, “A lot of these things… it’s amazing what can be preserved just by drying it out."
So, what is the "Zymoglyphic?” A handy pamphlet tells us it means 1) “Of, or pertaining to, images of fermantation, specifically the solid residue of creation fermentation on natural objects”, and 2) “The collection and arrangement of objects, either natural or weathered by natural forces, for poetic effect.”
So… it’s a lot of weird seeds, dried sea animals, shells, moss, tiny plastic people, glass bubbles set together in dioramas and collections. The artist has invented a culture of the Zymoglyphic and gives us a view of his brain though these assemblages. As a lover of “tiny things”, myself, I had a lot of questions.
Me: What’s your favorite natural formation to work with?
JS: Anything with lots of holes in it.
I totally agree. He gave me a quick tour of his studio, just a beautiful mish-mash of railroad figurines, dried bugs, fake eyeballs and dryer lint. Actually, that last one was this, a cloud sculpture of loose wool and strings:
Each exhibit was labeled, and the dioramas had mysterious descriptions such as:
A plastic angel and a dead bird greet and intriguing but invisible new arrival.
Tiny aliens have landed in a recently desiccated area. They manage to hunt down something to eat. An even tinier, unsuspecting motorist approaches the scene.
I want to say so much more about this strange place, but explaining it takes out all the fun of seeing it for yourself. I’ll say that it is very much like the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles, and if you’re into cryptozoology, taxidermy, and the art of making a museum, then you must go. And talk to the artist– for someone who has a museum of fake animals in his toolshed, he is astonishingly sane and fun to talk to.