A lot of rocks are moving in Sequim and it has nothing to do with construction or earthquakes.
Artists young and old are unifying behind a movement to paint and share rocks.
The Facebook group Sequim Rocks brings nearly 700 artists and admirers together after painting rocks and/or finding them to share online.
“For me it’s about going out and exploring nature,” says group administrator Sarah Miller. “But it’s also nice that people are finding joy in it.”
Styles and sizes vary from tiny heart-shaped rocks to larger, almost football-sized rocks but from looking at reactions online, there’s always a smile too from the finder.
Artist Holly McGwier Butcher remembers painting her first rocks in 1971 at a summer art program outside her elementary school parking lot. She gave her rock to her father who still keeps it to this day on his desk.
“Painting now at middle age has given me a way to express my feelings and hope; providing a sense of restoration,” she said.
McGwier Butcher isn’t alone with the deep connection with the art form.
“Oddly enough, it is very relaxing painting the rocks and an extra bonus when a person is overexcited about finding them,” said artist Paula Clark.
Fellow artist Jenn Mills said she paints and hides to put a smile on people’s faces.
“I like to hide them out of town, so others can spread the joy as well,” she said. “My kids and I like to find them because it brings excitement (too).”
John Evans looks at the medium as a message in a bottle saying, “Someone gives of themselves for another to find.”
While Laura Friedkin finds it’s a fun way to put her artwork in the world.
“(It’s) neat to think it might grace someone’s home and hearth and make them feel good when they look at it,” she said. “And hiding them is fun. (It’s) like an Easter egg hunt.”
Sequim Rocks formed in April following the lead of Port Angeles Rocks, which administrator Aisha Lesh believes was the first organized group online to start late last year.
“Truthfully, I did not expect it to happen like this,” she said. “It’s pretty crazy. I thought it would just be a couple of friends but it’s not even close. It’s been overwhelmingly positive.”
Both Lesh and Miller say they’ve spotted painted rocks such as peace signs or smiley faces before their groups started on the Olympic Peninsula but their groups may be the first to organize.
Port Angeles Rocks includes more than 2,600 people and Lesh said she’s seen groups across the country sprouting up online with thousands of members, too.
“It’s not a territory thing. It’s about spreading art,” she said. “I like when a Sequim rock is found in Port Angeles.”
She encourages any small town or community to start their own group, too.
“You don’t have to be that good at it,” she said.
“Most of us in preschool or with our grandparents painted rocks. It’s a free canvas. You can’t mess up. Plus, it’s a good way to get yourself out there.”
Locally painted rocks have been spotted in Hawaii and members live as far away as Europe.
“My mom is in Paris as we speak and she’s going to drop some off there,” Lesh said.
Miller said people usually find out about the “Rocks” groups from friends or finding a rock.
“They then ask to join and it takes off from there,” she said.
With the summer ramping up and tourists coming in full force, Sequim and Port Angeles Rocks may go even farther.
Hide and seek
While a lot of rocks may be going back into the wild with a new paint job, Miller guesses that about 10 percent of the painted rocks show up on the Sequim Rocks page again. Some people opt to keep them or don’t have Facebook, she said.
Either way, the groups are bringing people together.
Miller said families are having painting parties and even Sequim Rocks had a party with about 15 people in attendance to paint and meet for the first time.
One member brought her daughter, who told Miller “she’s not on her phone, she’s not in front of the TV — we’re excited for this,” Miller said.
Lesh said since the groups encourage art they try not to make many rules.
At a basic level, she encourages people to seal all of their artwork so it doesn’t run into the environment and to ask businesses before leaving a rock to find.
Miller said some entities, like the Clallam County Parks Department, don’t encourage people to leave painted rocks in the parks.
If you choose to paint a rock, Miller said there are a lot of routes to take.
She cleans each rock usually with a bristle brush and plain water, but some people use Dawn detergent, she said. Depending on the rock, some may need a base coat, and once the art is done, a waterproof sealant is needed.
Artists tend to use acrylic paint, she said, while others use fingernail polish and some use puffy paint.
Miller encourages people who find a painted rock from a group to post a photo because artists enjoy seeing their work in the wild.
Reach Matthew Nash at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Below) Four-year-old Jonathan Natchke discovers an Elmo rock at Carrie Blake Park. His mom Amy Henry-Natchke said Jonathan kept the rock for several weeks and recently hid it near the fishing pond. Photo courtesy of Amy Henry-Natchke