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Hidden rock art: Spreading spontaneous smiles throughout Atlantic Canada


Three-year-old Callie French of Paradise, N.L., was delighted to find a Princess Ariel rock recently. Callie’s mother Sarah French uploaded the adorable photo to the NL Rock Art Facebook group and has since learned that Annette Steele painted the rock. - Karen Young
Three-year-old Callie French of Paradise, N.L., was delighted to find a Princess Ariel rock recently. Callie’s mother Sarah French uploaded the adorable photo to the NL Rock Art Facebook group and has since learned that Annette Steele painted the rock. - Karen Young

'All about kindness'

The look of wonder and surprise on three-year-old Callie French’s face when she happened upon a painted rock of one of her favourite princesses — Ariel — is the reason why rock painting and hiding has become a passionate hobby for young and old alike in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Callie and her family live in Paradise, N.L. Callie's mother, Sarah French, said they’ve been searching for rocks for about five months.

“We have painted lots ourselves as well, and her Nanny Whelan has also painted lots for Callie to hide. Callie’s favourite rocks to paint are rainbows,” French said.

NL Rock Art founder Karen Young, working on some rocks.
NL Rock Art founder Karen Young, working on some rocks.

Karen Young, also from Paradise, is the woman behind the Facebook group NL Rock Art. Young started the group in 2017. Her project is all about surprising people and making them smile, she explains. It’s a project that’s been up in running in other areas, she said.

From ladybugs to lighthouses, cats to clotheslines, penguins to puffins, whales to words of encouragement — NL Rock Art is all about spreading positive messages in a world where negativity is all too common.

“The whole purpose of this is all about kindness. People can either re-hide the rock or keep it. Whatever they want to do,” Young said.

Building a network

Young writes NL Rock Art on the back of her painted rocks. The idea is for the finder to post a photo of the rock to the Facebook group.

“The first year, we had maybe 300 people (visit the group) and I was very pleased with that. Then, the second summer, it took off, and here we are,” Young said.

As of July 31, there were almost 25,000 members in the group.

Young has painted hundreds of rocks since starting the project.

Rocks painted by people in Newfoundland have found their way to various other places of the world, such as Russia, India, and Alcatraz — a former federal prison on an island in San Francisco Bay.

Young said it’s important to use acrylic paint — which can be bought in various discount stores, as well as craft stores — and while she prefers to use a brush-on sealant, other people apply a spray sealant to the paint and make it water-resistant. Some painters also use markers on their rocks.

While some of the rocks have obviously been painted by children, other pieces are beautiful works of art.

Family activity

Clara Ezekial hides a rock she painted in PEI. With the help of her mom, Elizabeth Ezekial, Clara recently started a PEI Rock Art Facebook group after finding rocks while vacationing in Corner Brook, NL.
Clara Ezekial hides a rock she painted in PEI. With the help of her mom, Elizabeth Ezekial, Clara recently started a PEI Rock Art Facebook group after finding rocks while vacationing in Corner Brook, NL.

Young is delighted to see that parents are spending time collecting and painting rocks with their children. They head out on an adventure to hide their rocks and often take time to look for some as well, she said.

“It’s become so much more than I ever thought it would, and that’s so good to see,” she said.

For some adults, the project has become much more than a rock finding initiative.

One woman wrote to the group how she suffers from depression and anxiety and that painting the rocks for her children to hide has become therapy for her.

“It’s a stress reliever for sure, and the walks that my kids do to hide the rocks is also a stress reliever. It’s a win-win for me, therapy, exercise, time spent with the kids out and away from game systems, seeing the kids excited to hide them and get to make people smile when they find them,” she wrote.

Similar groups starting in P.E.I.

Elizabeth and Garrett Ezekiel are from Corner Brook, N.L., but currently live in Mount Stewart, P.E.I. with their 10-year-old daughter, Clara.

The family discovered painted rocks with NL Rock Art inscribed on the back while vacationing in Corner Brook earlier this summer. One of the rocks had a close family connection.

“We were at the ferry terminal leaving Newfoundland and found a rock there that my brother (Jimmy Short) had painted in Corner Brook ... Apparently, someone in Corner Brook had found it and dropped it off in Port aux Basques. That was a full-circle moment for me,” Elizabeth Ezekiel said.

Once home in Mount Stewart, Ezekiel started a Facebook group called PEI Rock Art.

She and her daughter have already painted and hidden rocks.

A family from Ontario recently discovered one of the rocks at P.E.I.’s Victoria Park. They posted a photo of their find to PEI Rock Art Facebook group and said they would be taking it back to Ontario to hide.

Another neat connection - the rock the family had found was one Ezekial had brought from Newfoundland and painted once her family was back in P.E.I., and the family that discovered the rock is also from Newfoundland.

Over the years, Ezekiel and her daughter have found various ways to put smiles on people’s faces, such as writing positive messages on small pieces of paper and posting them on doors around P.E.I. and collecting toys for less fortunate children.

Their newly-discovered rock painting hobby is another way to brighten someone’s day — one rock at a time.

“This is something myself and my daughter can do together throughout the year. It doesn’t cost very much. It’s a bonding activity for us. I enjoy it and she enjoys it,” Ezekiel said.

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