Rocks, these days, really rock.
Long overlooked because they’re so ordinary, humble rocks are newly feted as works of art that carry an inspiring message.
“I love the idea of putting little random gifts of art out into the world, to bring joy to a stranger,” says Mary-Jeanne Smith, a resident of Dayton who has been painting rocks, and hiding them throughout the community for others to find, for a little more than a year. She is one of thousands of people around the nation who have joined the painted rocks grass roots movement, inspired by life coach Megan Murphy from Massachusetts. In 2015 Murphy wrote “You’ve got this” on a rock and left it on a beach in Cape Cod. After a friend found it and told her how the message had lifted her spirits, Murphy started the Kindness Rocks Project, encouraging others to paint “random acts of kindness” on rocks and leave them out for others to find.
Painted Rock Facebook Groups
“I painted my first rock, a dragonfly, in 2016 and it was so terrible I put it away and decided rock painting was not for me,” says Ashly Beebe, also from Dayton. Two years later she discovered and joined a Facebook rock painting group from Dayton and participated in its monthly challenges which honed her skills and techniques. Now she hides her rocks throughout town, focusing on busy streets and parks — especially in and around statues — because she wants people to find them easily.
“The best place I have hidden rocks was all over my mother’s garden when I went home to visit,” Beebe says. “It was so fun hearing her find them all weekend long and she still displays them.”
Part of the rock painting movement is posting found rocks on the local Facebook rock painting group, and many cities and geographical areas host one of these. Rock painters regularly check their local groups to see who has found their rocks and where, delighting in the stories and the smiles.
“The pictures I see posted of children finding my rocks have been particularly heartwarming,” Smith says. “They look so happy and proud, holding up their found rock. Knowing that my little random gift brought a smile is a lovely reward that keeps me painting more rocks.”
Hiding the Painted Rocks
For Dayton resident Felice Henderson, hiding the rocks is as much fun a painting them. On family walks through town her two children, 9 and 4, decide the final hiding place, which is sometimes really really obvious (the four-year-old’s choice) and sometimes not. Henderson remembers their own discovery of a special rock while vacationing on the coast, and it drove home to her how meaningful the ordinary rock has the potential to be.
“The rock we found was painted with the ashes of a deceased 2-year-old mixed into the paint,” Henderson remembers. “Her name was Cami Grace. Her mother painted the rocks with her ashes to have others find them and take them all over the world, since Cami died before her time and never got to travel.”
That story pierces the soul. Others are more lighthearted, such as Walla Wallan Nathan Martnick’s reason for starting to paint rocks in the first place.
“I did it initially with the intent of impressing a most beautiful woman who paints rocks, but then I realized I actually enjoyed painting rocks.” He also likes hiding them, and while he recognizes the need to make the hiding place not too difficult, sometimes the temptation is strong:
“One of the more unique spots I’ve chosen is an umbrella hole on a patio table.”
“I once hid a rock in the pocket of the Waitsburg Founding Fathers’ statue,” Waitsburg rock painter Sonya Taylor says. She gravitates toward a “theme” when it comes to hiding places, with Jubilee Lake designated for nature images like kayaking, ducks, and fishing, and the Dayton General Hospital Therapy Department housing her Pokemon rock during last year’s Halloween theme.
Finding Painted Rocks
“I don’t hide rocks super well,” Dayton resident Savonnah Henderson (Felice’s sister, to whom she credits the introduction to rock painting), says. “I WANT people to find them and enjoy them.”
That’s what it all comes down to: taking an ordinary item; transforming it into a thing of beauty; and placing it someplace where a total stranger will find it. The combination of all these elements is what keeps many people painting and hiding rocks. It’s an individual mission of spreading kindness, encouragement, and goodness.
“I love creating something beautiful that someone else can find,” Felice Henderson says. Or, as Beebe sums it up,
“I feel so grateful to have found not just a hobby, but a piece of my heart, and to share that as a random act of kindness with others.”
Rock Artists is the Art Event from Monday, January 28 through Saturday, February 23 at Wenaha Gallery. A number of regional rock art painters are displaying their work — in plain site — at the gallery. Rocks will be available for purchase for $10 each.
Contact the gallery, located at 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA, by phone at 509.382.2124 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at www.wenaha.com.