It’s 4 a.m. Monday in downtown Tacoma. Streetlights glow orange on empty streets. Stars glimmer overhead.
While most people are asleep and waiting for alarm clocks to jar them from their dreams, a group of people lurks in the shadows, quietly hiding handmade treasures known as Monkeyshines.
On their heels are the hunters — who willingly wake up before dawn each year to search for the hand-blown glass globes, ceramic bowls, glass bottles and other keepsakes made by Tacoma artists.
“It’s part of the magic of Tacoma,” said Mr. V, whose family helped hide more than 1,000 items for this year’s Monkeyshines treasure hunt.
Mr. V was joined by his wife and their 16-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter. The News Tribune agreed to keep their identities hidden to preserve the anonymity of the city’s beloved event.
Last year the family hunted for items. This year they joined nearly 50 other “shiners” at a secret location downtown to get marching orders before fanning out across the city to hide the art.
Most of the items are hidden in public spaces downtown, but others could be found on the West Side, the South End and elsewhere in the city.
The V family placed their treasures in a range of places.
I love that we live in a city where complete strangers are out in the middle of the night looking for art with each other.
Emily Coates, Hilltop resident
They hung black clay medallions with red monkeys made by two Tacoma ceramicists — known as Muddy Monkey and Dizzy Monkey — from tree branches and railroad crossing signs downtown.
They dropped glass monkey faces in fountains and perched blown glass on tree nooks and door frames.
“It’s fun to be in the know,” Mrs. V said. “It’s something bigger than yourself.”
Leading the faithful troop of shiners was Ms. Monkey, a local glass artist who 13 years ago co-founded Monkeyshines — the name is another word for prank. She requests anonymity to keep the whole enterprise a secret.
“The Monkeyshines are a way to get people out and interacting with people in a fun way,” Mrs. Monkey said in a phone interview last week.
“It’s about people thinking about kindness and how they can positively impact their communities. It can be really simple. It can be looking at people in the eye and saying hello and getting your nose out of your phone.”
Walking across the Chihuly Bridge of Glass shortly after 6 a.m. Monday, Hilltop neighbors Tobi Tommaney and Emily Coates embodied the Monkeyshines spirit.
The friends had been out since 4:30 a.m. and were bursting with energy as they described meeting other scavengers.
In a disposable society it’s nice to have something to count on.”
Ms. Monkey, local glass artist and co-founder of Tacoma’s Monkeyshines
“I love that we live in a city where complete strangers are out in the middle of the night looking for art with each other,” Coates said.
The women found a glass-blown monkey face medallion and a blue bottle with a gold embossed monkey and a handwritten monkey-themed joke tucked inside.
The items were likely hidden by Ms. Monkey’s crew.
The event is timed with Asian New Year. This year is the Year of the Monkey, hence the monkey art.
“There are so many rogue monkeys this year,” Ms. Monkey said of other artists who have joined the effort. “That’s what we’re really trying to encourage.”
Along with the glass globes done by Ms. Monkey and her artist friends, monkey-themed marbles, ceramic bowls, medallions, glass bottles, stuffed monkeys, water color postcards, painted rocks and more were tucked away, waiting to be discovered.
Shiners will be hiding the art all week. Most of the items are usually found quickly, though some hidden years ago are still out there, Ms. Monkey said.
Because of the time and money involved in making the donated art, Ms. Monkey and the other Monkeyshines founders planned to call it quits after last year’s event.
But stories from people inspired by the tradition gave them the push they needed to commit to another 12-year cycle.
“In a disposable society it’s nice to have something to count on,” Ms. Monkey said.