Gadora is back and readying for a monumental solo road trip across the South and up along the Appalachian Valley. I’m zigging and zagging 2,000+ miles towards Washington DC from Austin during the month of July. And though I’ve planned certain stops in uncertain towns, I look forward to the tiny divine (and monumental) discoveries, both inside of me and outside of my old cranky wagon.
I will talk to strangers – engaging townie folks who offer unsolicited advice on where to find the best coffee, dipping spots, up-cyclers, community do-gooders, etc. There’s a zillion ways to slice a road trip: in search of the best hamburger (tho- not in my case), roadside oddities, best hiking trails… etc. I aim to focus on “happy people doing their thing” – and if their thing happens to create some kind of art, or conversation, then I yearn to make their acquaintance.
Enter MNAE. Museum of Natural and Artificial Ephemerata. An Austin roadside attraction, if you will, along the East side of town where the urban landscape is rapidly changing. I’d discovered their in-home museum whilst looking for local oddities (= genuine humans who unapologetically do their thing). A friend was in town so I thought this the perfect “tester” outing – there’s safety in numbers – a prep for grandeur on the open road. We arrived, as did a handful of other folks, to the lush surroundings of a welcoming couple (and museum’s curators): Scott and Jen. A few minutes early we were encouraged to mill about their outside garden and help ourselves to the early bloomers on the mammoth fig tree. Don’t mind if we do.
Once inside our host Jen jumped right into our welcome. No house rules (I mean, the museum is IN THEIR HOME). No formalities. Just a lovely welcome. While her children handed out our program, and a free postcard, Jen got busy showing us around. We started on The Celebrity Collection. There was one strand of Willie Nelson’s hair. George Bush Sr.’s Chocolate Eyeball. Marilyn Monroe’s Last Smoked Cigarette. And a few random items from famous folks I didn’t even know. Jen gave us a story about each of the artifacts. And paused for our processing.
We moved from there to the Naturalia and Artificialia collection (only needed to pivot slightly to the right). The wallpaper alone was worth dissecting a while. This collection was the stuff of fairy tales. A Narwhal Tooth Replica (didn’t the Narwhal have a horn?), a raccoon penis bone, the Contraband Stalagmite from a Missouri Cave, a decaying vinyl leaf from Disneyland and a pink flamingo “rescued” from a dumpster outside of the Smithsonian. A real flamingo head, with a rod in his neck. I couldn’t stop staring at it.
A reflection of Penny and I in hallway just off main (and only) room…
The Urban Phantasmogoria wall was pretty r-a-d. A piece of melted glass from the first World’s Fair – London’s Crystal Palace Carte de Visite (and an informative story about it’s origins), Incubator Air and Infant Nightie from Coney Island’s Incubator Baby display, replicas of Siamese Twin Fruits, Barnum’s Organ Grinder Monkey Skull and so much more. The collection was varied, but Scott wove the pieces together. The curation is tight.
Below, a selfie in their black-lit bathroom. Complete with glow-in-the-dark space men and blow fish hanging from the ceiling.
I got the sense – or at least strongly suspected – that much of what our Curators said stemmed from their fantastical imaginative reappropriation of items pulled from dumpsters, found in between the pages of random books, artifacts handed down from the museums originators Mercury Curie and Rasputin Zaplatynska (aka Rolls Joyce, Jr.), and so on. I chuckled through their stories bc I thought, wow, y’all are GOOD. On the way out, under the fig tree, we stopped to canoodle one of their cats. Jen approached and said she was once a famous hoop-jumping kitty, but has long since retired. Mmm-hm. Right. We’re certain this sleeping cat was all about that.
It wasn’t until writing this post that I found the above pic. It put everything else into perspective.
Thank you for opening your home, and our minds.
“The Museum was founded by Mercury Curie and Rasputin Zaplatynska (a.k.a. Rolls Joyce, Jr. ) in Tucson, AZ, on November 7th, 1921, in the early afternoon, during a monsoon storm, as winged ants took to the sky. Their goal was to explore histories and forms of collecting, with an emphasis on preserving endangered modes of collecting (saintly relics, wunderkammern, and dime museums in particular) — a sort of zoo for museums. Although the original curators passed away in the 1940s, the current curators, Scott and Jen Webel (Scott being Zaplatynska’s great grand nephew) reopened the museum in Tucscon in 1999 before moving to Austin, TX, in 2001. In Austin, we began curating community themed exhibitions to expand on our signature displays in the impermanent collection.”