Who doesn’t love a good treasure hunt? Moab artist Aaron Rotchadl is sending Moabites on quests for loot around town, hiding pieces of his own ceramic work and posting clues online formatted as photos and riddles.
One at a time, Rotchadl tucks one-of-a-kind mugs or pots into obscure crannies around town, then posts photos online with just enough detail to give a hint of the location, but just ambiguous enough to make it a puzzle. Sometimes he writes short poems containing clues, and if it takes too long for the piece to be found, he’ll add more clues later.
“It’s been on my radar for three or four years,” Rotchadl said of the idea.
He came across the concept at a ceramics convention called the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts, or NCECA. The event takes place in a different city every year; Rotchadl first attended the convention in Phoenix, in 2010, then again in Minneapolis in 2019. This year’s event was scheduled to take place in Richmond, Virginia, but was canceled because of coronavirus concerns.
In 2019, some participating artists initiated a game they called “Hide NCECA,” a pun on the acronym for the convention, which is pronounced “En-see-kah.” Convention participants hid pieces of their work in out-of-the-way places around the city during the convention and invited other artists to find them by following clues posted on Instagram.
While Rotchadl didn’t get a chance to participate during his trip to Minneapolis, he loved the idea and saved it for later.
“It’s always been in the back of my head, but I hadn’t felt that I had the time,” he said—until now.
Rotchadl works seasonally for a rope access company that works on wind turbines; the company decided to delay the start of this season due to coronavirus concerns. With other activities restricted over the last couple of months, Rotchadl decided to use the time to start his own “art and seek” game here in Moab.
Rotchadl invites others to participate as hiders, not just seekers. Two other local artists have already posted items under the #artandseekmoab hashtag: Hayley Knouff, owner of Moab pottery studio Desert Sun Ceramics, and local artist Shari Michaud.
An important part of the game is respecting both the game’s rules and the natural world. Each posted clue comes with a “manifesto,” which notes that no treasures will be hidden on private property, archaeological sites or in national parks. Items should be hidden where they can be reached without going off-trail, and both hiders and seekers should follow “Leave No Trace” ethics.
The first item Rotchadl hid was along the Millcreek Parkway in town. He posted a set of three photos on Instagram and Facebook, showing a mug nestled among rocks along a concrete wall, generic enough to be mysterious with enough details to be recognizable to someone familiar with the spot.
Moab local Brett Sherman happened to see the clues posted on Facebook just minutes after they went up.
“I saw the photos and I thought, ‘that’s Mill Creek in town!’” he said. “I hopped on my bike and went to 200 East and 200 South... I think what I recognized was the concrete and the red railing above it.”
Sherman said once he got to the location where he thought the mug was hidden, it took him a few minutes to actually find it.
“I stood right on top of it for like, a minute,” he recalled. Once he did find the mug, he was gleeful.
“It was great, I got really excited,” he said. He also wanted to share the moment with someone else. “I hung out for a few minutes just hoping someone else who was looking for it would show up.”
No one else was as quick to the scene as Sherman. He later shared a photo of himself in a comment on the original Facebook post, grinning and giving a thumbs-up while displaying the found treasure.
“Now I drink coffee out of it every morning,” Sherman said of the mug. “It’s such a cool game...Moab’s got so many nooks and crannies that this could lead people to.”
Rotchadl said other participants have also enjoyed the search.
“Response has been really positive,” he said. The game is a way for Rotchadl to promote his work while simultaneously helping the community.
“On a selfish level, it’s creating exposure for me—but it’s also fun to see the people who have gone hunting for them,” Rotchadl said. “Whether or not they’ve found something, they’ve had a good time and have told me about that.”
He also said he himself has enjoyed seeing Moab through a different perspective while looking for places to stash a pot.
“It kind of makes you stop and smell the roses when you look for a hiding spot,” he said. “It’s slowing down and getting your magnifying glass out and appreciating things on the micro level.”