Zymoglyphic Museum delights with bizarre artifacts, elaborate creations

By Emma Ford

Tucked away off of Hawthorne Street in the Mt. Tabor neighborhood of Portland is the garage-housed Zymoglyphic gallery, run by artist and curator Jim Stewart. Stewart coined the term for his gallery himself: Zymoglyphic means either “pertaining to images of fermentation, specifically the solid residue of creative fermentation on natural objects” or “the collection and arrangement of objects, primarily either natural or weathered by natural forces, for poetic effect,” according to the
museum website.

The collection, his own work, is the result of a life-long project and Stewart’s love of the natural world.

“My dad was a biology teacher, so I got some stuff from him,” Stewart said. “I grew up in California, and we are pretty close to the coast there. A lot of (the collection) is beach finds.” 

Stewart, who is now retired from a career in Silicon Valley as a software engineer, always maintained art as a personal hobby. To look at the displays in his museum is to see the results of that passion—the attention to the smallest of details in his displays and models is breathtaking. One can linger in each section for hours and still find more to discover.

The gallery inhabits a small and well-designed room above a workshop and library space in Stewart’s home garage. It is divided into different sections with unique names and focuses—from the dioramas of the Age of Wonder to the living exhibits of the Natural Age to the figurines of the Rust Age, each section offers unique appeal to the viewer.

The work is also a multimedia presentation, with music playing, digital art presentations, written work and quotations accompanying many of the displays. 

“When I read something, or I see something relevant, a good quote, I keep it,” Stewart said. “The idea is as if somebody, say Shakespeare, came to the museum and wrote something (about the displays). Then Mark Twain, or whomever. What is interesting about all these people is you get to a few lines and you can recognize the writer. Their styles are so distinctive.”

Stewart is not alone in his personal museum efforts—around the world, many individuals run small and intimate exhibitions of their personal passions. However, these museums do in many cases remain more personal reflections of interest than statements on personal
museums themselves.

“I don’t think there is that much of a community,” said Stewart. “You know, there are a lot of people that have their own museums, but they are usually interested in that thing. Like there used to be a kayak museum in the neighborhood. But (the curator) is not interested in museums in general, he is interested in the kayaks, and that museum was a way to display that.” 

Stewart is passionate about the artwork his museum houses and the work of maintaining a personal museum in itself. 

“I do keep trying to encourage people to make their own personal museums,” Stewart said.

Instead of finding community in fellow curators, Stewart finds it in fellow creatives. The Zymoglyphic Gallery offers a residency program for local artists of all kinds to pursue creative projects alongside Stewart. His downstairs Cabinet of Curiosities features work from many of these
artists, as well as local artisans Stewart finds personally appealing.

The downstairs space is one of inspiration, as the Zymoglyphic library is full of books on art, architecture, philosophy and the natural world. Stewart’s workshop is also fully visible to any visitors, and the unfinished projects in his space are just as inspiring as anything on
display upstairs. 

Such a unique place offers a wonderful and whimsical way to spend an afternoon, and is a labor of love that cannot be missed. 

The Zymoglyphic Gallery is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the 2nd and 4th Sunday of every month. Learn more at zymoglyphic.org.

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