Hunting for mushrooms in Ottawa: Local artist playing hide and seek with her Instagram followers

If you’re walking down the street in Ottawa and spot a small, colourful, clay mushroom hidden in plain view, you just stumbled on a local scavenger hunt that is quickly gaining popularity. 

"It just took off. Very quickly," says Olivia Wittenburg. "I make mushrooms and toadstool homes out of air dry clay. And I leave them around, mostly downtown, for people to find and pick up."

Wittenburg just recently took on this project and it has already become very popular amongst Ottawa enthusiasts.

"Ya, none of my mushrooms stay in one place for longer than a few minutes," says Wittenburg. "People scoop them up really, really quickly."

Tiny colourful clay mushrooms, placed in sometimes unsuspecting spots, are then posted to her Instagram account, toadstooltown613, for her followers to find. But the process takes time.

"Hours," says Wittenburg. "I spend so much time making them. It’s 24-hour air dry clay. So once I’m done sculpting it, I can’t decorate it or anything for at least a day."

Instagram follower Hannah McConnell says she looks forward to seeing where the next hunt will take her. 

"It’s kinda cool that she has this free, fun and little creative project going on," says McConnell. "She has such cute ones that go up every week. And some of them have little crystals in them. And then she has pride ones, and cat ones. And I have a lot of house plants at home that I want to put them in."

Laura Stephens-Dagg is also obsessed with Wittenburgs mushrooms and has already found three of the little hidden treasures.

"I have a tiny little teal and terracotta one, which I think is super adorable," says Stephens-Dagg. "Handmade items and handmade things are just very important to people. And that element of someone else’s creativity going into something is super important."

Following the hunt since the beginning, she sometimes finds, but leaves the mushrooms, giving others a chance to collect the art.

"I think it’s really cool to see a following build, and a community form out of pretty much nothing," says Stephens-Dagg. "It started as tiny clay projects. And now they’re getting huge and have crystals and feathers."

Wittenburg says she wants to keep her new hobby going as long as possible. 

"My plan is to stop once it starts snowing. And as soon as the spring thaw starts, I’m starting up again."

Creating and sharing her art is something Wittenburg says she never expected would become so important to those who search for it.

"It’s so nice to get messages. Like, 'Oh I’m going on a hunt with my significant other.' 'Oh, I’m going out with my kids,' or like, 'It’s hard to go outside. I’m depressed. You’re giving me a reason to go outside.' I’m like, my heart. That’s just so nice. It’s so fun."