Finding Picasso, Elvis’s Dressing Room, and Monkeyshines in Tacoma, Wa.

Tacoma has moxie. It’s the scrappy little brother to Seattle. Tacoma is responsible for a great many things that Seattle somehow managed to claim as its own. Nirvana’s first show as Nirvana happened in Tacoma. Tacoma also dominates the Glass Art Scene and has produced some of the finest glassblowers in the world.
Tacoma’s large enough where finding amazing restaurants and epic parks is easy. It’s also small enough to be able to find parking and to randomly run into old friends.
It also has a fair amount of secret spots and traditions like the Picasso or Monkeyshines.
Where’s the Picasso? It’s in an area that thousands of people have walked by and never noticed.
It caught my eye by accident. I went to get a closer look and was a bit amazed. Not only is it a Picasso, but it has some interesting and significant historical meaning behind it. The history is significant enough to wonder how it made its way to Tacoma, nonetheless, the United States in the first place.
Where is it? I’m not going to say.
Finding it is half the fun and the point of Monkeyshines, which is defined as a mischievous or playful activity or prank.
According to Mr. and Ms. Monkey, the secretive founders of the event, “The Monkeyshine Project was started in 2002 when Ms. Monkey and Mr. Monkey were blowing glass one day, and discussing all of the bad news we had seen in the news.”
The Monkey’s continued, “As a way to cheer ourselves up, we decided to make some glass floats and hide them. Then we planned to “stake out” the floats anonymously and watch people find them. We hoped their excitement at finding glass would rub off on us. Mr. Monkey had recently sculpted a bronze monkey headstamp which we used to decorate the floats. The idea grew that day, and others joined in. The glass shop owner generously donated a tank of glassblowing to us. We invited all of our artist friends, and by the time we were finished, we had almost 200 pieces of glass.  The intention was to hide them before Christmas, but we ran out of time. We looked for the next holiday. It was Chinese New Year. And as serendipity would have it, it was Year of the Monkey!”
It’s gotten bigger and bigger each year, with more and more artists joining in on the mischievous activity.
“We have grown from 200 items up to 2,000 balls and medallions last year.” Stated Ms. Monkey. “Over the years ‘Rogue Monkeys’ have added to the merriment. Starting with the mysterious ‘Marbleman,’ who hides hundreds of marbles for hunters to find, Rogues have been making and hiding art all over the city during ‘Monkeyshine Season.’”
I’ve known about it for several years, but last year was my first hunt. It was a blast but was unsuccessful. This year around January 25th, I’ll be up long before the sun rises to go searching for the glass orbs, but I’ve heard whispers it’s spread out over an entire season.
They are hidden all over the city. Check landmark areas like Point Defiance, the Ruston Waterfront, Downtown, and everyplace in between.
Thousands of intricate glass art and other forms of small trinkets detailed with the Chinese Zodiac symbol for the upcoming year. In 2020, it’s the year of the rat.
If you go out searching go early, you’ll find groups of people with headlamps and flashlights. A key tool I forgot last year, but won’t this year.
Take only one piece, then post where you found it on various Facebook groups like this Monkeyshines page.
I asked Ms. Monkey if she had any secret Tacoma spots.
Her reply, “Elvis’s dressing room.”
I’m not entirely sure what she means, but I didn’t ask for a location, because finding it is part of the story.
I hope everyone has a beautiful upcoming New Years Day and I wish everyone luck on Chinese New Year unless you’re our scouring Tacoma like I will be. Then I wish you good luck, just slightly less good than me.
To support Monkeyshines, Cups bearing the Chinese Zodiac images are sold exclusively at Creative Forces Gifts and Sundries at the Hotel Murano. According to the Monkeys, the Orbs and Medallions are not sold, but the money from the cups goes towards funding the creating more and more monkeyshines.
Fun fact: Murano, Italy is a city famous for its glassblowers. However, Murano appears to lack a Hotel Tacoma.
All of the photos were provided courtesy of Ms. and Mr. Monkey.


Written by Corey Dembeck

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