Victory along the Riverwalk. Photo by Thomas Davis.
Victory along the River Walk. Photo by Thomas Davis.

Confession: I am completely and unabashedly addicted to finding treasure. Even greedy, you might say. Yet I’ll leave pots of gold and Lucky Charms to the leprechauns, silver rings to beachcombers, and diamonds to De Beers and Audrey Hepburn because I’m after marbles. Yes, marbles.

More accurately, varying sized spheres of glass, hand crafted in fire, shaped into beautiful pieces of art, and hidden around The Alamo City for all inclined treasure hunters to find.

A jumbo marble hidden and found at the Blue Star Art Complex. Photo by Thomas Davis.
A jumbo marble hidden and found at the Blue Star Art Complex. Photo by Thomas Davis.

And I know I’m not the only one who has lost his marbles over esferas perdidas.

The brainchild of San Antonio glass artist Sean Johnston, the group “Esferas Perdidas” was created by local glass workers as a way to introduce San Antonians to the amazing glass art being done right here in the city.

Through the group’s Facebook page (which everyone is encouraged to join), artists post a photo or set of photos as a clue to the location of a hidden glass treasure.  A quirky road sign. A tree next to a bridge.  A famous San Antonio landmark. Each photo serves as a mark on the city map to which group members can venture and claim their reward. Its finders-keepers in Esferas Perdidas, and as the group description proclaims, “Free art for all!” It’s brilliant, and completely enthralling.

Though I’m still a relatively new member of the group, a ping of the iPhone showing the newest clue has the ability to inject adrenaline and anxiety into otherwise uneventful Saturday afternoons. Pushed down the hunting path by my iPhone’s incantation, I’ve pored over clues, lit candles to the Saint of Lost Marbles, and rushed out, hoping that I won’t be too late. The beauty of the art and the fun of searching, which pervade every hunt will almost certainly cast a spell on even the most stoic of individuals.

A lost sphere found at Mission San Jose
A lost sphere found at Mission San José. Photo by Thomas Davis.

In search of treasure, I’ve peeked in nearly every nook and cranny of Mission San José, swept through mounds of dead leaves and weeds, and teetered on slippery green rocks along the Riverwalk near Concepción Park. Some hunters have been known to hurl themselves into the San Antonio River, climb trees, walk through thickets of prickly brush, remove shoes and wade through muck, and even brave haunted locations in the dead night for marble glory.

The excitement of the hunt, the anxiety of knowing that other group members are out there searching as well, and that feeling of success when you reach down and pick up a beautiful piece of art all make group membership completely gratifying.  Yet while you race against your fellow hunters, there’s also the added knowledge that any given marble hidden for the group’s seekers may simply be found by a lucky passerby, and forever be lost to the world as an “unconfirmed find.”

It’s entirely possible to search for an hour, thinking that at any minute you’re sure to hit pay dirt, while onlyl minutes before you showed up, some lucky son-of-a-gun stumbled through and happened to look down and take home that piece of glass gold.  Maddening, yet its all part of the experience. For all hunters of the spheres, group membership offers three guarantees: If you don’t find the treasure, someone else will, you’re sure to have fun, and you’ll be exposed to wonderful artists and their work.

Hunting for all the esferas perdidas has only grown since the March 5th San Antonio Current published a two-page spread on the group. At the time of this writing, membership has grown by more than 700 people (as of this morning, it’s grown to 1,183), and where there once were two of us searching at a location, seeing five or more fellow seekers rummaging along abandoned buildings and through last November’s leaf crop isn’t uncommon. Admittedly, the marble manic Gordon Gecko in me would prefer a small group, with less competition and greater opportunity to grow my market share of art from Johnston, Jake Zollie Harper, JJ Vanlandingham, Justin Parr, and Adam Smolinsky, to name a few.

A marble of the cosmos
A marble of the cosmos. Photo by Thomas Davis.

Yet the artwork is beautiful, the group members you run into during the hunt are great, and the sense of community is puro San Antonio. Many a time I’ve been out searching at a location and come back empty handed, only to see a fellow hunter post a picture of the treasure and excitedly proclaim their sweet, sweet victory. At these times, Gordon Gecko swiftly fades away and I can’t help but “like” their picture and appreciate how the group has so masterfully baptized a convert.

In the end, it’s that sense of community and the ability to witness growth in art appreciation that really makes the group so special. Sure, adding a marble to the collection is nice, but knowing that there’s another San Antonian interested in local art is just that much better, marble manic Gordon Gecko be damned.

So to all you art enthusiasts, treasure hunters, and wannabe marble masters, come on, join the group, and support amazing art and artists in San Antonio. You might just lose your marbles over spheres, but you’ll find a lot of treasure along the way.

*Featured/top image: Victory along the River Walk. Photo by Thomas Davis.

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A native Iowan, Thomas Davis lives with his wife, Grace, in downtown San Antonio and works as a Sr. Economic Development Specialist with the City of San Antonio's Economic Development Department. A Grinnell...