Sonoma County artists send fans on weekly scavenger hunts

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Equipped with no more than a smartphone and a clue posted on the photo-sharing site Instagram, online sleuths hit the Sonoma County streets each week in search of rare treasure — original art. Finders are keepers.

Local artists have been stashing small paintings, illustrations and other works in alleyways and other inconspicuous places for local residents and social media followers to find. The scavenger hunt begins as soon as the artists post a picture on their Instagram pages every Friday, giving hundreds of followers a hint as to where the artwork was hidden.

“It’s about how well you know the area,” said Djuna Barricklow, 14, of Santa Rosa who a month ago started hiding her framed watercolor paintings around the city.

Art is hidden at a store that is the last of its kind!!

A photo posted by Djuna (@ossieart) on Mar 13, 2015 at 4:02pm PDT

Her hiding spots included Railroad Square and in between the legs of a Snoopy statue outside a frozen yogurt shop. Clues were posted onto her Instagram account, @ossieart.

“It’s also a fun game,” said Barricklow, whose parents are artists. “It gets people off their butts and gets them looking around their city.”

The undertaking is part of a grassroots movement going on in cities worldwide called Free Art Friday. Santa Rosa artist Zack Rhodes is credited for launching the Sonoma County movement last year. He first learned about Free Art Friday while visiting his father in Austin, Texas.

For the past six months, Rhodes has been hiding his paintings mainly in Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park and Petaluma, where he works for an art supply store. He’s given out more than two dozen small paintings, placing them in shopping carts, on Peanuts statues and near abandoned buildings.

It’s a good way to promote the arts and bring more exposure to artists in the community, said Rhodes, 26, who can be found on Instagram @zr_art.

“No one really knew who I was before this,” said Rhodes, who now boasts 1,500 followers on Instagram and recently had some of his paintings displayed at the Redwood Cafe in Cotati.

“I want it to get bigger with more people involved,” he said about Free Art Friday in the county. “I want people to get out and have a newfound passion for art.”

Five artists, including Barricklow, have joined the effort, posting clues online under the hashtag #FreeArtFridaySR. More artists means more opportunities for residents to snatch up a painting.

“I put something out. (In) five minutes, it’s gone,” Rhodes said.

When it comes to hiding spots, he explained, “I try not to make it too easy and try not to make it too hard.”

Illustrator David Vega joined the movement about a month ago. He takes his wife and 6-year-old daughter out to hide his small illustrations, which he described as fancy forest creatures. They’ve left pieces under park benches, at light poles and near school signs.

Vega, who hopes to illustrate children’s books in the future, said he’s still building a following on Instagram.

“I have a high passion for art. I just want to be able to share that with people,” said the Santa Rosa man, who recently graduated from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.

Vega, 28, added, “I want people to see art, to be able to love it and bring it home.”

Marco Arredondo of Santa Rosa doesn’t consider himself much of an art enthusiast, but he’s emerged as a dogged competitor in the wide field of finders. He was drawn to the challenge of the game. For weeks, he tried to get one of Rhodes’ paintings. Someone else always got there first.

“Every second counts,” said Arredondo, who doesn’t have a car and relies on a bicycle to get around town.

He refused to give up. “I knew I was going to find a piece eventually. I wasn’t going to quit,” said Arredondo, 42.

As a manager at an outdoor and sporting goods store, Arredondo writes his own schedule. He gave himself four Fridays off in a row to focus on the scavenger hunt. The effort paid off. While Arredondo was checking his feed on Instagram on a Friday afternoon three months ago, Rhodes posted a picture of the Montgomery Village wagon, with a painting stashed underneath. Arredondo lived close by in Bennett Valley.

Rhodes was sitting in his car, making sure a city worker didn’t throw the package away, when Arredondo pulled up. Excited to finally find a piece, Arredondo searched for someone to snap a picture of him with the jellyfish painting. He approached Rhodes, unaware he was the artist.

“That was poetic,” Arredondo recounted, adding that the game has given him a new appreciation for art and those who create it.

“All of these people have courage. They’re putting themselves out there,” he said.

The rules of the game are simple. Once a piece is located, the finder must take a picture and tag the artist on Instagram. The artist typically leaves instructions attached to the artwork.

It doesn’t always go as planned, though.

Passers-by and homeless individuals have taken the wrapped packages, unaware of what’s inside. Other times, finders didn’t post a picture on the social media site, denying the artists any credit for their work.

“I don’t (always) get to find out where it goes,” said artist Ryan Anderson, who often hides his paintings of planets and space in Petaluma, where he works in sheet metal.

“So long as they don’t end up in a garbage can, I’m good,” added Anderson, 21, who uses spray paint to create the space scenes on canvas. Parks are his favorite hiding places.

“Some people have a wicked eye,” said Dominic Padua, a Sebastopol airbrush artist who owns Dom Chi Designs. He’s hidden pieces in baseball fields and near an art supply store. His paintings can fetch hundreds of dollars. However, he wanted others who don’t have the money to buy artwork to enjoy his paintings, said Padua, who also designs art apparel.

“You couldn’t sell that piece and get that excitement,” said Padua, 31. “That idea that you found it and it’s yours — it’s unreal.”

Rhodes on a recent Friday laid out a small painting wrapped in paper near a mural on an old building at the corner of Cleveland and College avenues in Santa Rosa.

Barricklow, who also likes to take part in the finds, raced to get it. When she saw Rhodes’ post, she was sitting at a nearby cafe with her mother, Santa Rosa arts activist Spring Maxfield. When the women arrived at the Santa Rosa intersection, a passer-by had already taken Rhodes’ piece.

The finder’s name was Jay, and he didn’t have a phone or Instagram. Times were tough for Jay, who was between jobs, said Rhodes, who snapped a picture of him holding the art and posted it on Instagram.

“Something really small like that flipped his whole day around,” Rhodes said.

Barricklow is the youngest artist in the group. She’s still developing her style and building followers on Instagram. Seeing residents’ excitement when they find the work pushes her to work harder and paint more, she said.

“They cherish what I made. That gives me so much pride,” said Barricklow, who even got her 8-year-old sister, Xochitl, to leave out her work on Fridays.

“Everyone should participate,” Barricklow added.

You can reach Staff Writer Eloísa Ruano González at 521-5458 or eloisa.gonzalez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @eloisanews.

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