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Worthington man explores local history through unique hobbies

Matt Gaudian displays his two passions: art and metal detecting. (Alyssa Sobotka / The Globe)1 / 2
Matt Gaudian paints US Bank Stadium. (Alyssa Sobotka / The Globe)2 / 2

WORTHINGTON — Matt Gaudian loves history.

While he considers himself a bit of a history buff, it wasn’t always that way, he said. His interest deepened thanks to the development of two hobbies inspired by the world around him.

Whether picking up his paintbrush or his metal detector, the tools allow the Worthington man’s mind to wander to life of a different era.

“I like the history of the town,” said Gaudian, who relocated to Worthington from Waterloo, Iowa 16 years ago with his wife, Maggie, the youth director at American Reformed Church. “(My hobbies) interconnect when I see the old buildings and discover what happened here.”

Having dusted off a cheap metal detector his parents purchased for him, Gaudian is equipped with all of the tools to complete a modern-day treasure hunt.

He’ll detect anywhere — parks, in the lake, fields and even his own backyard, where his wife says he’s found an unusual amount of horseshoes.

“I find something interesting every time,” he said.

From coins, buttons and rings to anything in between, Gaudian keeps the majority of his finds, even displaying some of his favorite “treasures.”

His collection includes many items from the late 1800s, including numerous counterfeit coins from 1879. It makes him curious to imagine what someone was doing with the coins back then.

Despite the significant amount of coins accumulating in his collection, he’s not a “coin collector,” his wife says, referring to a running family joke.

And to first-grade daughter, Lilly, Gaudian is a metal “detector.”

“But he’s not,” says Maggie. “He’s a metal detectorist.”

The couple also has a fifth-grade daughter, Audrey.

With all jokes aside, Maggie admires how much he knows about the area from his unique hobby.

His collection includes far more than coins, though, including one special, much older object. One of his most-prized finds is what he estimates to be a 4,000- to 6,000 year-old Copper Culture spear point. He said it’s likely one of the oldest metals in U.S. history and was mined by Native Americans in Michigan. Unfortunately, he said, the one he found is bent, presumably from large farming equipment.

Gaudian knows so much about the piece because of research. As is common for many of his finds, he consults a friend who is an archaeologist and belongs to a Facebook community for metal detectorists. And of course, there’s a plethora of websites available at his fingertips.

Not only does he put a lot of research into the items he discovers, but he invests time and effort before heading out to detect, which often leads to big rewards.

With permission, he likes to head to less commonly known locations throughout the area, particularly where a village-turned-ghost town once sat. That often means heading out to a corn or bean field.

“I’m always looking for new places to detect,” he said.

Gaudian also enjoys the conversations sparked as he’s carrying around his metal detector in a public place.

“It’s neat to have people come up to me and tell me where something used to be,” he said.  

While he enjoys uncovering what’s below people’s feet, Gaudian also enjoys the history lessons the town affords above ground.

Worthington’s Historic Dayton House, Pioneer Village, Worthington City Hall, Memorial Auditorium and Worthington Depot just scratch the surface of familiar locations around town that have caught his eye and inspired his paintings.

Selecting the subject of his watercolor creations is simple, he said.

“I just find old things that are interesting around town and paint them,” he said. “Buildings or old signs that stand out to me.”

He also can’t help but be drawn to old neon signs, especially the “rusty and dirty” ones left untouched. So when he drove by the Avoca Bar shortly after moving to the area, he had to pull over and snap a picture on his phone.

It’s become one of his favorite paintings.

If Gaudian were forced to categorize his artwork, he’d say “impressionistic,” although he said he began painting more realistic pieces when he was trying to sell commercially.

“It’s interesting to me, to have painted something in someone’s home,” he said. “It’s a little weird to think about.”

Painting is more than a hobby for Gaudian, as he teaches seventh through 12th grade art at Edgerton Public School.

“I’ll get my students started on something and I’ll start painting,” he said. “They like to see me paint.”

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