If you’re hiking through the Barton Creek Greenbelt and spot a wicked cool treasure chest just off the trail that looks like something out of The Legend of Zelda, then you can thank Ezekiel Buchheit for the adventure. “Ez” (pronounced “easy”) is a local software designer turned self-taught street artist and doggy daycare owner who has recently started an art project with which he hopes to infuse Austin with some of the fun and magic found in the Zelda video game epics.
The premise of “Hyrule in Austin” is simple: Ez creates handmade Zelda artifacts, such as potted piranha plants, crocheted bomb bags, perler bead sprite swords, and fairy bottles, and hides them around town without telling anyone. After that, there are no rules. If you’re lucky enough to find a treasure or even a whole chest full of booty, you’re governed by your own personal honor code. We figure you can do one of three things at that point: (1) take the whole thing and go, (2) replace an object or two with treasure of your own, or (3) walk away with a smile.
Buchheit includes all sorts of handmade Zelda treasures in each chest, such as stained glass triforce necklaces, sword keychains, and Lon Lon bottles. Photo: Rebecca L. Bennett
“It’s the death of the artist at that point,” Buchheit told Austin.com. “I just thought it would be a little fun and surreal if you were out hiking and, holy shit, there’s a treasure chest off the road… If you don’t know what Zelda is and you find it, it’s still cool. If you do know what Zelda is, then it’s bonus cool.”
Like all great adventures, “Hyrule in Austin” started with those pesky pirahna plants. Buchheit would make ’em and plant ’em in community garden plots around Lady Bird Lake, hoping to brighten gardeners’ days. Next, he began affixing his creations to walls under bridges. One particular installment featured an assortment of perler bead swords accompanied by that classic quest-launching phrase from the original 1986 Nintendo game: “It’s dangerous to go alone! Take this.”
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Despite Ez’s humble opinion of his artistic talents, his arsenal of creative skills is quite impressive. He dabbles in painting, drawing, wood burning, crocheting, stained glass, and sewing, to name a few mediums. Much of his inspiration comes from great street art, such as the likes of his local favorites: Becca, Truth, and Mouf.
“I really love it when you come across somebody who put a bunch of effort into something that is just there,” said Ez. “It’s not in a gallery. It’s for everybody to enjoy or not enjoy. They didn’t ask for permission. And I just wanted to emulate that in my world and make it more interactive as well.”
In 2012, Ez expanded the scope of the project by hiding a treasure chest filled with Zelda artifacts near Twin Falls. Since then, Buchheit has hidden two more chests, both long since discovered and looted, and is now hard at work developing chest number four. He plans to hide the box sometime within the next few weeks and is currently collaborating with other artists to create a multi-part scavenger hunt. With their help, Ez hopes to add new treasures and develop a method for rigging each chest to play the game series’ characteristic treasure chest opening sound when opened, among other things.
“It’s always just been me. I walk out, put it somewhere, and think, ‘That looks cool,'” said Ez. “Now, I’ve got about a thousand emails from people in the last four days and three thousand more people on Tumblr… It’s a lot of time and money going into something that’s, at the end of the day, super goofy, but if it brings people together, it’s awesome.”
You can follow Hyrule in Austin on Tumblr — that’s where Ez connects with fans wanting to participate and local artists and developers looking to contribute. He also provides updates about whether or not certain treasures are still in play. Just don’t expect to receive hints online. Only those who email [email protected] will get that privilege.
Ez has lived in Austin for 13 years. He is married, has four kids (including twins), and cares for three rescue dogs — most notably, a pitbull named, of all things, Zelda. Surprisingly, though, Zelda isn’t Ez’s favorite game character and neither is Link. In truth, he doesn’t actually have a favorite!
“Unfortunately, Link isn’t much of a character. I mean, he’s just a blank slate for you to play… I just don’t know. Ravio?” said Ez, shrugging. “I’m a bad fan.”
Like we believe that.
If you participate in the next Hyrule in Austin adventure, here’s the chest you’ll be searching for. Photo: Rebecca L. Bennett
Featured photo: Ezekiel “Ez” Buchheit, the street artist behind “Hyrule in Austin,” holds his fourth Zelda treasure chest, which will be hidden in the coming weeks. Rebecca L. Bennett.