(Posted May 12, 2017)
By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
Say you’re taking a walk in the park or visiting the library. What would you do if you came across a small rock, hand-painted in an eye-catching design, randomly placed on a park bench or a bookshelf?
Kirsten Witt, a language arts and reading teacher at London Middle School, hopes you would smile and join in the fun.
Witt is launching London OH Rocks, a “spreading smiles initiative” through which children and adults are invited to paint and hide rocks around their communities for others to find. Both hiders and finders are encouraged to post photos of their rocks on Witt’s Facebook page, London OH Rocks@londonohrocks.
“The premise…is to give for the simplicity of giving, having no expectations in return,” Witt said.
The Facebook page serves as a way to track the rocks’ journeys and share design ideas. Anyone who paints a rock is asked to write the Facebook page information on the back of the rock. Anyone who finds a rock is welcome to keep it or hide it again for someone else to find.
Witt started London OH Rocks with her sixth-grade language arts students in early May. Since then, the 100 or so students have spent parts of several class periods painting rocks for distribution.
Hailey Travis gave her rock a purple background, then added blue and pink flowers. She plans to hide it somewhere at London Public Library.
“I go there a lot and I know a lot of kids in my neighborhood who go there a lot,” she said of her reason for choosing the library.
The person who finds Natalie Boyd’s rock will be treated to a five-color abstract design inspired by the 12-year-old’s love of all things tie-dyed. Boyd’s classmate, Joe Osborn, took a detailed approach, painting a bearded man’s face on his rock.
Groups outside of London Middle School have already jumped on the London OH Rocks bandwagon. Cloverbud members of the Fairfield Rascals 4-H Club recently spent a day painting rocks. They posted pictures of their set-up on Witt’s Facebook page.
“Scout leaders are looking into it to do as an activity. It’s a great idea for birthday parties,” Witt said. “I really want this to go. I want to see something positive for families in the community.”
Witt’s inspiration for the smile-spreading movement came from an experience she had while vacationing in Palm Harbor, Fla., during spring break. While at a park, one of her children found three painted rocks.
“They were all unique with only one similarity: Each had ‘Palm Harbor FB’ painted on the back,” Witt said.
She then noticed some teenaged boys walking in the area. They appeared to be looking for something. When Witt offered to help, they explained that they were looking for the same kind of rocks her child had just found.
“After a short and sweet chat with their mother and one look at my mother, we knew we were going to join in the movement to bring it home to London,” Witt said. “Two weeks later, Mom and I were shopping for rocks, paint and brushes to bring to my middle school classroom and enable my students to jumpstart the London OH Rocks community group.”
Witt organized a “rock walk” for May 13 to hide the movement’s first rocks. She invited students, parents, and anyone else with rocks ready to hide to meet at 10 a.m. at the McDonald’s in downtown London. The rocks could end up anywhere, including inside some area businesses.
Now, it’s up to the community to keep it going, said Witt, who shares tips on her Facebook page about where to buy paintable rocks, what type of paint works best, and how to clear coat the rocks to seal the designs and protect them from the elements.
Witt also arranged with the London Visual Arts Guild to hold rock painting sessions this summer at Studio 7, 7 E. High St., London. All ages are invited to take part. Participants are encouraged to bring their own rocks, paint and brushes. Witt will have supplies for those who don’t have them. The dates are June 6, June 27, July 11 and July 25. All sessions run from 3 to 4 p.m.