Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Residents and Me

The Residents oozed out of the Louisiana swamps in the 1960s and headed to San Francisco, lured by the delights of the counterculture blooming there at the time.  Due to a vehicular malfunction, they stopped just short of their goal and set up shop next to the railroad tracks in San Mateo, the same sleepy suburb that is your curator's home town and, much later, became the first home of the Zymoglyphic Museum.

In 1972, they relocated to 18 Sycamore St., a 5,000 square foot warehouse space in San Francisco's Mission District. There, they split into the Residents proper, four dapper but mysterious entities with eyeballs for heads, and the Cryptic Corporation, a collective of four suspiciously similar people.  Any allegations of personnel overlap between the two are to this day politely but firmly denied. 

The Cryptic folks took care of public-facing tasks, such as record production, design, and sales, financial management, and those various art infrastructure tasks that all artists must deal with in some way.  That left the Residents themselves free to create music and perform in privacy with no expectations or distractions.  

In 1976, they moved out of the warehouse and some friends of theirs from Louisiana moved in.  Soon after, the new occupants needed a roommate and I happened to need a room, so I moved in for a couple of years. The space was a big, airy, space with an industrial skylight upstairs, various rooms carved out with plywood, a big empty space downstairs painted black.  One room had nothing but a television and built-in cushions.  One roommate was a painter, another grew orchids and had a pet iguana, a third played piano in the projection room downstairs.  It was there that I first started thinking about making art. Years later, I would have dreams about the place - a house with undiscovered rooms containing unknown wonders.

The Residents went on create a vast discography and produce live spectacles which nearly bankrupted them in the 1980s.  I am sorry to say they had fallen off my radar during that time and I did not attend any of the live performances.

Many years later (2013 to be exact), Jason Roth came to visit the Zymoglyphic Museum during one of its annual open days.  Something about the eyes in the exhibits led him to aks if I had heard of a group called the Residents.  Of course! I used to live in their house!! He thought Homer Flynn, their spokesman at the time, would be interested in coming back to San Mateo to see the museum.  Homer did attend the open days in the following year. It is unclear whether he can be counted as a "celebrity" visitor, but he is certainly a very pleasant and thoughtful gentleman.

I finally went to see a live show last Tuesday, part of their extended 40th anniversary tour.  The eyeball costumes are long gone, the spectacle is pared down, and they are down to one original member, Randy Resident, backed by a guitarist and keyboard player, but still a great show.  I met up with longtime Residents fan Mad Martian.  He is the curator of the Residents-inspired Eyeball Museum in the Portland suburb of Tigard.

Accompanying the 40th anniversary tour is "Theory of Obscurity", a new documentary film about history of the group.  The title refers to the idea that creativity ferments best out of public view. Perhaps the Zymoglyphic Museum also benefited from its relative isolation during its first decade in San Mateo.  It also made the point that the Residents favor ideas over honing musical craft; true practitioners of the Zymoglyphic Way!

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Since that last "museum open" announcement over a year ago, the museum has emigrated from its original location in San Mateo and is relocating to Portland, Oregon.  It is currently squeezed into a 6'x13' space under the east ramp of Hawthorne Bridge over the Willamette River.

A new email list has been created, so if you want updates to appear in your emailbox, send a note to If you are Facebook-centric, head here and like it!

The museum participates in First Friday - Portland's Eastside Artwalk and welcomes visitors every first Friday of the month.  Each month has a theme and November's is "Collections." Museums have traditionally been founded on collections, and the Zymoglyphic Museum is no different.  The curator's childhood museum forms its historical core - rocks, shells, marine animals, stamps, and many others. Some of the current collections are direct descendants of those originals. 

See here for the full story on the collections and here for information about the events.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Museum Open May 10-11

The Zymoglyphic Museum in San Mateo will be OPEN to visitors this coming weekend!

Saturday, May 10 - 11 AM to 5 PM
Sunday, May 11 - 12 noon to 4 PM

Our arachnid interns have been scurrying around, polishing the cobwebs to a nice dusty gleam in preparation for swinging open the rust-laden doors and letting in the bright spring sunshine!  The resident crustaceans are preening their exoskeletons for your viewing pleasure, the mermaids are gaily sprucing themselves up, and little eyeballs are popping up like mushrooms everywhere!

See directions here:

It is about a 15 minute walk from the Hillsdale Caltrain station, should you prefer to go that route.

Admission is free!

More info at

Monday, February 10, 2014

News and Notes: Personal Museums on the March!

Kaolithic exhibit, Bailey Museum

"Reliquary of St. Igge", Bowery Museum 

Miniature study with curiosity cabinet in peephole gallery
Marcus Kelli Collection

Our roving reporter presents breaking news on the museum-as-art-project front in the SF Bay Area...Clayton Bailey, whose Wonders of the World Museum had been in storage for nearly four decades, opened his own museum last summer, situated in the charming little town of Crockett...The museum contains a recreation of the old exhibits as well as a mad scientist lab, robots, ceramic gargoyles, and demonic pottery...This space recently visited the Bailey Museum and presented Clayton with some ZM lit...A museum twofer is to be had at the Alter Space gallery in San Francisco...The artist (and gallery co-owner) known as  Koak is building the Bowery Museum in the gallery space as a complement to her work-in-progress graphic novel...Currently showing in Alter Space's peephole gallery are dioramas and specimens from Danielle Schlunegger's Marcus Kelli Collection and Museum (on view until Feb. 22)...Both museums predicted by this space to have great futures...In the South Bay, Beverly Rayner brings her  Museum of Mesmerism & Psychic Art to the Triton Museum in Santa Clara later in February...

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Book Arts Jam 2013

The museum will once again be trundling down the Peninsula from San Mateo to Palo Alto, bringing its roadshow to the annual Book Arts Jam on October 19!

The Zymoglyphic Museum Press will have available the full range of its publications as well as a selection of prints from the series Views of the Zymoglyphic Region.

The Zymoglyphic Postal Service will be well represented by a selection of postcards, a sample of which may be seen here.

This event takes place at the Lucie Stern Community Center, 1305 Middlefield in Palo Alto, from 10 AM to 4  PM, and features a fine survey of local book and print artists.

Hope to see you there!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Museum at the Maker Faire

Two of San Mateo's great cultural attractions will be joining forces as the Zymoglyphic Museum trundles its roadshow 15 blocks up El Camino Real to the Maker Faire!  The Faire's annual mass outcropping of creativity takes over the county fairgrounds this coming weekend!

The museum's focus will be to encourage those who find themselves in possession of disorganized detritus to make their own museum out of it.  We feel that the personal museum is a woefully underused form of creative expression!

We will be sharing space with the Bellybutton Museum, which is currently curating a collection of navel photographs.   More information on that project here.

We will be located in the Fiesta Building, Wing B.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Open Days at the Museum - May 4th and 5th

The Zymoglyphic Museum will once again be open for a skeptical public to see the museum's exhibits, dioramas, and environs in person the first weekend in May.  That's May 4th and 5th from 11 AM to 5 PM as part of Silicon Valley Open Studios.  New this year will be a fine selection of post cards which will serve as convenient and economical souvenirs of your visit, as well a new modern art gallery! There will also be a full assortment of publications and prints available.  Contact the museum if you wish to have a specific print available when you arrive.

You will also be able to see the pinhole photography, pinhole cameras, artist's books, and other wonders of Judith Hoffman

The carless (or others so inclined) may wish to hoof it from from the Hillsdale train station, which is about a 15 minute walk away.  See directions here.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Zymoglyphic Art of the Modern Age - New Gallery!

The museum is proud to announce the completion of its new Art of the Modern Age gallery. Measuring just under a square foot, this miniature temple of modernism is snugly sited on a shelf under the museum's lone windowsill. It replaces the dilapidated shoebox art galleries and features found art (including examples from the Natural Modernist school) and miniature works from the Biomorphic movement.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

An Invisible Museum

The essence of a museum is arguably its physical location and its tangible collections.  You may see with your own eyes, for example, the full original of a painting you have only dimly glimpsed in black-and-white in an art textbook,  or marvel at ancient artifacts from vanished civilizations. 

However, we are also interested in literary museums, those that consist only of words and whose construction is unencumbered by the laws of physics.

Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities imagines Marco Polo spinning tales for Kublai Khan about the metaphysical communities that he has encountered in his travels around the Kublai's vast empire. 

One of these cities has a museum and here is its story:


In the centre of Fedora, that grey stone metropolis, stands a metal building with a crystal globe in every room. Looking into each globe, you see a blue city, the model of a different Fedora. These are the forms the city could have taken if, for one reason or another, it had not become what we see today. In every age someone, looking at Fedora as it was, imagined a way of making it the ideal city, but while he constructed his miniature model, Fedora was already no longer the same as before, and what had until yesterday a possible future became only a toy in a glass globe.

The building with the globes is now Fedora's museum: every inhabitant visits it, chooses the city that corresponds to his desires, contemplates it, imagining his reflection in the medusa pond that would have collected the waters of the canal (if it had not been dried up), the view from the high canopied box along the avenue reserved for elephants (now banished from the city), the fun of sliding down the spiral, twisting minaret (which never found a pedestal from which to rise).

On the map of your empire, O Great Khan, there must be room both for the big, stone Fedora and the little Fedoras in glass globes. Not because they are all equally real, but because all are only assumptions. The one contains what is accepted as necessary when it is not yet so; the others, what is imagined as possible and, a moment later, is possible no longer.

Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities, 1972; translated by William Weaver

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Museum Press at the Book Arts Jam!

The Zymoglyphic Museum Press will be setting up shop at the Book Arts Jam on Saturday, Oct. 20 in Palo Alto, Calif. The event, which in previous years had been hosted at Foothill College, has moved this year to the Lucie Stern Community Center, located at 1305 Middlefield Road in Palo Alto. The Jam will run from 10 AM to 4 PM.

Books will of course be the main focus, and there will also be a selection of prints from the series Views of the Zymoglyphic Region available.

New this year: postcards (example above) and postage stamps from the newly-inaugurated Zymoglyphic Postal Service!