The hunt is on for 'Monkeyshines' in Tacoma
Every Lunar New Year, a group of volunteer artists sneak through Tacoma in the dead of night.
They hide thousands of colorful glass “floats” — 5- to 10-inch orbs, with an insignia stamped on the top.
If you’ve been in Tacoma sometime over the past month and seen people shaking bushes, climbing trees, or turning up rocks, you’ve likely seen a collector of what are locally called “Monkeyshines.”
Ms. Monkey is the mysterious creator of this tradition, and is celebrating 20 years of hiding these glass pieces. But even after all that time, the project retains an aura of secrecy.
"We like to maintain our anonymity," said Ms. Monkey, who with her husband, Mr. Monkey, started the project in the spirit of guerilla art.
In 2003, during a particularly gloomy stretch of winter, Ms. Monkey decided they would make and hide glass floats — spherical orbs traditionally used to buoy fishing nets — around Tacoma. Mr. Monkey made a bronze insignia of a monkey, which they stamped on top of the floats.
As for the name?
"Monkeyshine is known as a mischievous act, which seemed perfect for us because the Monkeyshines project is about bringing joy to the community by placing random pieces of fine art glass," Ms. Monkey said.
The couple originally intended to hide the orbs at Christmas time, but they couldn't make them fast enough. The next holiday they looked at was Lunar New Year, which in 2004, happened to be the year of the monkey. Ms. Monkey thought it serendipitous.
As residents began to find these custom floats in bushes, trees, and other nooks of the city, media started to report on the mysterious gifts. Twenty years later, the Monkeyshine hunt is an annual event celebrated by the city. This past year, the year of the rabbit, the team hid 2,300 floats, along with 700 individual fine art pieces, made by more than 200 people.
"None of this was a plan," Ms. Monkey said. "It exceeded our expectations for happiness."
The Tacoma Glassblowing Studio helps produce those thousands of Monkeyshines. Jeannine Sigafoos, the co-owner of the space, said they started collaborating with Ms. Monkey around 2007.
"It's a full month of work," she said.
But even the artists, those perhaps most familiar with Monkeyshines, have trouble finding them once they're out in the wild. Monkeyshines are guided by a philosophy: You have to find them, you can't gift them, you can't buy them, and even if you're making them, you can't keep one.
"This year I found one," Sigafoos said, "Now I know what people feel, that joy of finding something that's organic and beautiful when it's made in Tacoma."
Hear the full interview with Ms. Monkey and the Tacoma Glassblowing Studio by clicking the "play" button on the audio above.