Hunt for Treasure: ‘Finders Keepers’ Begins Friday

Group rocks by artists: Bonnie Mackenzie, Eina Rieger, Hannah Jackson, Sarah Loiselle, Stefanie Marco, and Julie Phillipps. Courtesy photo

The WeHa Artists Emporium will hold the fourth annual ‘Finders Keepers’ rock hunt in West Hartford beginning Friday, Dec. 1.

Ruby Slippers rock by Julie Phillipps. Courtesy photo

By Ronni Newton

Devoted fans of the WeHa Artists Emporium treasure hunts will be at the ready beginning Friday, Dec. 1, when the fourth annual Finders Keepers kicks off with nine days of clues – an exciting opportunity to discover artistically-painted rocks, donated by local artists and hidden around West Hartford.

What you find, you get to keep.

Anyone can participate in the fun, free community event – and all you have to do to obtain one of the pieces of art is decipher the clue about the location posted each day on the organization’s Facebook page, and get there first.

“There should be about 75 to 80 pieces donated this year,” said Julie Phillipps, a local artist who is one of the founding members of the WeHa Artists Emporium. Each day’s clue will point to a different location in West Hartford, where there will be about six or seven painted rocks for hunters to discover.

There’s no particular set theme for this year’s collection of rocks. Phillipps said the artists decided what they wanted to do, and the variety of finished works include zodiac signs and inspirational messages. Sculptor David Davis Wilson created “mo-rockas” – fake rocks made of clay, Phillipps said.

“The clues will come up at different times of day. We like to alternate times because of people’s work schedules,” said Phillipps. The locations will be spread throughout town, too.

The highly successful treasure hunt is now in its fourth year, and the timeframe is set so that it ends the weekend of the Holiday Art Market, on Dec. 9 and 10.

The first Finders Keepers lasted through the entire month of December, but Phillipps said it was taxing on the artists and finders alike, and the volume of rocks made finding one less special.

“Now artists can focus more time on creating fewer, but nicer, rocks,” artist Stefanie Marco, one of the event founders, said in a news release. “Each rock is treasure worth hunting for.”

Reaching for the Stars rock by Stefanie Marco. Courtesy photo

Along with Phillipps, Marco, and Wilson, the list of artists, all of whom were specifically invited to participate, includes Hannah Dunnack Jackson, Sarah Loiselle, Bonnie MacKenzie, Eina Rieger, Annie Mae, Pamela Howard, and Denise Balcanoff.

“We really enjoy the West Hartford community, and how supportive they are of the arts,” said Phillipps. She said the event is the artists’ way of giving back, saying thank you, and spreading holiday joy.

Plus, people of all ages love treasure hunts, and a hunt for art helps create new art lovers.

Leading up to Finders Keepers, Phillipps spent five days as an artist-in-residence at Webster Hill Elementary School, building interest in community art and the spirit of generosity and giving.

Students from pre-k through fifth grade created their own artistic rocks, with designs that included bugs, birds, and octopi. “The kids were great, the teachers were enthusiastic,” Phillipps said.

Although the students’ rocks are not part of Finders Keepers, Phillipps said that some of the students were inspired to start their own treasure hunts. She told them that if they leave a treasure somewhere in town, to be sure to leave a note so the finder knows they can keep it.

As the Finders Keepers concludes the morning of Saturday, Dec. 9, Phillipps is hopeful that participants – those lucky enough to find a rock and those whose searches were unsuccessful – will be interested in checking out some more artistic treasures at the Holiday Art Market.

“We’re pretty excited,” Phillipps said. This year’s arts and crafts show will be held in a new location, a bright and airy former car dealership showroom at 430 New Park Ave., just up the street from West Hartford’s Home Design District. Plenty of free parking is available in the back.

There will be works for sale from 24 artists, a good variety of very high quality art from potters, painters, and jewelers as well as works done in wood and textiles, Marco said.

There will also be three food vendors: Ion Restaurant, Skyscraper Sandwich Truck, and the Curbside Chef, and Tainted Face Painting.

To participate in Finders Keepers, join the WeHa Artists Emporium Facebook group and watch for clues to be posted beginning Dec. 1. Rocks will be hidden daily through Dec. 9.

The Holiday Art Market will be on Saturday, Dec. 9, from 11 a.m.-4 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 10 from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. at 430 New Park Ave.

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Julie Phillipps painting a rock. Courtesy photo

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