An exhibit in the Zymoglyphic Museum. This object the people are standing on is actually only six inches tall, and is made of rocks and various other natural materials. Photo by Abby Chapman.

Portland is notorious for its weirdness, and has many small (but interesting) wonders scattered around town—such as Mill Ends Park: the world’s smallest park, the Witch’s Castle at Macleay Park, and the oddest of them all: the Zymoglyphic Museum. Zymoglyphic is defined as “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” on the museum’s website. This is a made up word, but it stems from genuine word roots. “‘Zyme’ is the root for fermentation and ‘glyph’ is images, so the idea is ‘images of creative fermentation,’” explains Jim Stewart, the museum curator.

Having opened in December of 2016, this museum has recently become a popular Portland attraction. The location has been visited by as few as 18 people or as many as 124 people every day it opens, which is on the 2nd and 4th Sundays of each month. However, it’s usually around 50 people. This attraction stems from the museum’s intrigue and its free admission.

The museum is filled with setups in tanks and habitats, and even features a ‘mermaid’ in its largest exhibit. Most exhibits are inspired from the objects Stewart finds as the objects guide his creativity, though a few are inspired by dreams Stewart has, such as dreams where the exhibit is actually alive.

The museum is located in the top floor of a large garage, and manages to fill the space nicely. Signs are located in the room showing visitors where to look first, and to take you through these imaginary eras.

Stewart came up with the idea for this project after he started collecting interesting things, which he turned into scenes. From there he kept making these scenes more advanced, eventually turning them into a museum. Stewart tends to find these objects on walks, has them brought to him, or sometimes buys them. His materials include natural things such as preserved dead animals, and objects weathered naturally. Stewart says that he also often chooses things that “don’t look like what they really are.”

Stewart describes his museum as one big art piece, and has no one favorite part. When going to the museum, one will find themselves immersed in the new world that is created. The museum takes you through the history of the Zymoglyphic region and includes exhibits such as ‘The Rust Age’ which is given its namesake because of how many of the “ceremonial artifacts were made of decaying metal,” as it says on one of the many descriptions next to each exhibit.

The Zymoglyphic Museum primarily advertises on Facebook. Photography is allowed and encouraged—the website has a whole page dedicated to photography.

The website features all there is to know about the museum, and explains in depth what is seen at the museum. It even has some separate exhibits under “online exhibits.”
Everything in the museum is intriguing and mystical; this art piece will put you in a new world.