INAUGURAL MEMBER Spotlight
Spreading a Message of Tolerance
Artist’s transformation into Jumper Maybach gives new
lease on life, opens door for self expression and acceptance
ARTS+BUSINESS MEMBER Spotlight
Honoring the Dead While Appreciating the Present
National Museum of Funeral History’s unique exhibits aim
to help visitors live fuller lives
by Mike Danahey
Any day above ground is a good one.
The National Museum of Funeral History in North Houston has a trademark on that phrase, and as the museum’s president, Genevieve Keeney Vasquez says that’s the feeling staff hopes visitors get from a visit to the family-friendly educational attraction.
“The hope is that by having a better understanding of the impact death has on our lives, we can appreciate and live fuller lives,” Keeney Vasquez said.
The museum was founded in 1992 by Robert L. Waltrip as a place to educate people about and preserve the history of death care, giving insight into how cultures across the globe mark the passing of life.
Keeney Vasquez has been with the institution since 2007.
“I got my start here when I was studying to get my mortician’s license at the Commonwealth Institute of Funeral Service next door to the National Museum of Funeral History. I volunteered to hang lights,” she said.
Over those years, the unique museum has grown to include hundreds of thousands of items in its collection and to hold 17 permanent exhibits.
The most recent of those is “A History of Mourning Photography” exhibit which explores a time in the 1800s when families would take photos of and with their deceased loved ones, posing next to their open caskets.
Other exhibits include looks at: the funerals of U.S. presidents and of popes; the histories of embalming and cremation; unique coffins, including one covered in coins; fantasy coffins from Ghana; Japanese funerals; a George H.W. Bush Memorial; the traditional Mexican Day of the Dead; and New Orleans jazz funerals, to which an elaborate piece of clothing worn during such a celebration will soon be added.
Visitors can even learn the etymology of terms by touring the museum.
As an example, Keeney Vasquez noted that family homes in the United States used to hold parlors where wakes would take place for the departed. Funeral directors would make house calls bringing along all the equipment they might need, from items used to make sure someone was, indeed, dead, to embalming fluids and tools, caskets, stands, podiums and the like.
“As the amount of equipment became unwieldy, funeral directors began to open their own places, with rooms modeled after home parlors, which became known as funeral parlors.
The parlors in homes that once held wakes and funerals became places for the living to gather, giving birth to the term living room, Keeney Vasquez said.
In late April 2023, the museum will offer “The Most Famous Burial of All Time: The Shroud of Turin,” an examination of what some have claimed to hold the image of Jesus Christ.
Keeney Vasquez said work is also underway on putting together an exhibit on the late Queen Elizabeth II and her funeral.
Admission to the National Museum of Funeral History is just $10 and includes entry to special exhibits and can include docent tours, which need to be booked in advance.
“Funerals are a rite of passage and are as much for the living as they are for remembering the dead,” Keeney Vasquez said.
The Chamber is proud to call the National Museum of Funeral History an Arts + Business member. To learn more about the National Museum of Funeral History, visit www.nmfh.org.
by Dave Hoffman
Art has been described as a form of transformation. It can be uplifting and change the way we think. Most importantly, it is an expression of truth. Houston artist Ben Workman embodies all of these things. His current vocation as an artist known as Jumper Maybach was achieved through a series of lows, highs, and inspirations. He runs a gallery, displays art throughout the world, licenses merchandise, and spreads a message of anti-bullying and tolerance.
Workman worked as an IT administrator for the federal government for 30 years, where he was bullied for being gay. In 2011, he hit a low point, and that was where the transformation took place — where his story truly began.
“It got to the point that I couldn’t take coming to work. I went through a period of prayer and meditation and believe that God touched me, and told me to become Jumper,” he said, referring to a childhood memory where his grandfather would put clown makeup on him and call him Jumper the Clown. “I had visions and saw that I was to take painting as a form of healing to end hate and bullying and intolerance in the world. I was to use Jumper as a beacon, to use art as a gateway, to create art to archive the moment, the times we’re in, to create an awareness. So, I became a painter.”
In just six months, Workman went through many different series and started painting in an abstract way, which led to his work being exhibited in Dubai, UAE, in 2015 and in 2017 at the prestigious ALLIANCE FRANÇAISE, the Gallerie Du Louvre in Paris, France, and Villa Pisani National Museum in Stra, Italy.
He has leveraged licensing opportunities for rugs, winter wear, purses, a men’s line, and other items being marketed to Dillard’s, Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, and other high-profile chains. He’s also looking at having his art appear on candles and luggage. One unique licensing opportunity presented itself to place his art into the frames of Italian eyewear.
But his real mission is to spread the message of ending hate and intolerance.
“Every licensee that uses my product has to be aligned with my mission by sending a percentage of the proceeds to be (used to) end bullying, hate and intolerance,” he said. “I want to create a group of people where if you use a Jumper Maybach item, you support ending bullying, hate, and intolerance.”
Workman also appears in public dressed as Jumper, spreading his message of tolerance.
“I’m a fashionable clown. I go to parties wearing clothes based on my art,” he said. “The clown is one of the few people in the world who can get bullied just for being a clown. So, my job was to teach tolerance to people I met. Some people fear clowns. Why are you scared of me? Could it be that on some level you don’t like someone who is different from you? I’m just like you, the only thing is I wear makeup and I’m a clown.”
Ben joined the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber to grow his business by aligning with a group that matches his mission. In fact, Jumper Maybach is the very first member that joined the Chamber in 2016.
“Where else can that be better done but in a Chamber that understands what it means to be bullied for being gay, lesbian, or transgender?” he said. “There are so many forms of discrimination and hate. My mission fits everyone — everyone who has been ostracized or not treated well based on some reason that is beyond their control.”
For more information, or to purchase apparel from the Jumper Maybach shop, visit jumpermaybach.com.