Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Museum of Lost Wonder

This is the book I've wanted to show you all since the beginning of this project. It was given to me, picked up at a discount book store, and it's one of the weirdest books I own. That's the gold-plated book cover, depicting the museum's symbol, a "circle of creativity."

This book is Jeff Hoake's "The Museum of Lost Wonder." Hoake is the senior exhibit designer for the Monterray Bay Aquarium, and he's also an illustrator. Basically what he's done here is attempt to make a mini museum out of a book. He's trying to "bring back the wonder" in science, which he believes we've lost, and tries to tie science and religion/myth together to achieve this goal. A couple of times here he does not get his historical facts right. What he does achieve is the overall goal to get the reader to consider alternate perspectives on life, to explore, to question, to seek meaning, and he keeps a decent sense of humor throughout the book. He provides little experiments for the reader to do, like the chapter on how to induce hallucinations without drugs, and there's mental exercises, games, and seven paper models you can cut out and construct. It's a very strange activity book for adults.

There are 160 thick full-color pages, stuffed with his illustrations, comics and paintings. This project had to have been a massive undertaking. The entire book can be considered as one solid piece of art, but obviously I can't scan all the pages for you. He divides the museum into seven "exhibits," which represent the seven transformation stages in alchemy, which he uses as a metaphor for the transformation of a person's psychology as they go through these stages of wonderment-seeking. So this is the first exhibit, Calcinatio, the Hall of Technology. The name is a reference to fire, which is an essential element of civilization and technology. Here he talks about the great excitements and terrors that technology has brought us. The illustration for the opening of the chapter has a large (going out?) fire pit in the center, whose smoke parallels the steam rising from the train in the background. Texture covers the piece, but where texture might normally accentuate a feeling of movement in another drawing, Hoake uses them to make the whole page very still. The planes and bombs seem suspended in the air, exactly as they would be in a museum. The flat colors and line weight compete with the perspective in the drawing; the former wants to flatten everything out, the latter wants to give everything depth. The result looks a lot like a two-dimensional representation of one of his paper models.

Here's one of his models for you to look at, and below that is the instruction diagram so you can see what the book's pages look like. It's a spiral model of the universe. I haven't made that one yet, though I have made a couple others and regretted cutting up the pages. Then I took the models apart and used the pieces for collage. Hoake says his inspiration comes from the old 1600's museums and curiosity cabinets, which is reflected in his drawings. I get that he's trying to make them look like old woodcuts, but because of his aesthetic choices the book does not become a place of light-filled wonder like he might want. It gets a little dark and creepy in here, especially when he tries to draw children. The lines are very black and often heavy and unrelenting, which looks strange when used to shade a joyful child playing jump rope. He might have done better to make the experience more human-looking, like this artist Madeline von Foerster has done with her curiosity cabinet paintings.

Here's a link to his actual website, where you can see more of the models and drawings. And I always like looking at what other artists are working with and in what conditions. I thought you might too, so here you'll find a couple pictures of the artist in his studio.


  1. This all just seems like it's come from a totally different era, it has a very steampunk quality to it. Also, I love the notion of something so beautifully crafted and interactive (although I would probably regret cutting up the pages as well). I bet his museum exhibits are out of this world.

  2. the top design looks close to the design shepard fairley did for the grammy awards last year. i u seen it