Dana Chambers was walking into Walmart in Glen Burnie when she saw a rock — a painted rock — sitting against a tree.
Delighted by its whimsy, she picked up the rock and remembers being thrilled with what she saw.
“You could tell that a child had made it. It was a woman’s face, with her hair,” Chambers said. “I was just so excited.”
It wasn’t something she had encountered before. So she carried the small stone with her while she shopped, looking at the artwork and reading the writing on the back that directed her to a certain Facebook group, one for painted rocks in Anne Arundel County. Once in the group, Chambers said, she found a picture of the little girl who had painted the rock.
“The feeling it gave me was really good,” Chambers said. “I just kept thinking about it. I said, ‘You know what, I’m going to start my own group for Arbutus.’”
And so, the next day, sitting in the Double T Diner in Catonsville, Chambers created “Arbutus Rocks,” a Facebook group dedicated to sharing photos of painted rocks and leaving clues on where to find them. The group, created on June 15, already has more than 1,600 members.
“I’ve never done any kind of crafts, any kind of painting or drawing, nothing," Chambers said. "I wasn’t the artsy type, but I definitely am now.”
The premise is straightforward enough. Find or purchase a rock, paint something on it — a design, a slogan, a character, whatever strikes your fancy — and then seal it so the paint doesn’t fade. Then, hide the rock somewhere in the community.
Oh, and don’t forget to put the name of the Facebook group on the back of the stone, so that anyone who finds it can learn what’s going on.
Chambers said she has seen people of all ages out and about in Arbutus, and on the Facebook group, hiding or finding rocks. She said her 17-year-old son will get excited and join her when she’s painting the stones.
Others have noted similar experiences.
Kelly Young said her 11-year-old daughter gets “so happy” finding the rocks. Young said painting and hiding them and then connecting online to tell stories about the experience has brought the community together.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people I would have never normally talked to,” Young said.
The art of painting, hiding, finding and then keeping or re-releasing rocks to be discovered again is not a phenomenon limited to Arbutus. Chambers came across the idea when she discovered the Facebook group called “Anne Arundel Rocks,” which was formed about two years ago. That group has more than 3,300 members and gets multiple posts each day.
There are other groups in the region, including a statewide one called “Painted Rocks of Maryland,” which has over 20,000 members.
Chrissy Harding-Mooney, of Arbutus, called the rocks and the community that has grown up around them “completely amazing.”
She said she painted a rock that said “Trust your journey." Painting and designing the rock was itself a meditative process for Harding-Mooney, who said she was able to work through some of her own issues while working on the stone.
And, since the rock has been “released” into Arbutus, Harding-Mooney said she’s seen others react to finding the stone and say it spoke to them in a personal way.
One post that shows a photograph of the rock says the finder was “so happy” to find it, saying she’s had a hard year and found reassurance in the message of trusting yourself.
“Most people might say, ‘Oh, it’s just a rock,’ but it really isn’t,” Harding-Mooney said.
She said the rocks have gotten her teenager “off the Xbox” and participating in family paint night, and that her 4-year-old, Jaxson, has gone from throwing a small fit every time he returns a rock to getting excited about hiding the stones for others to find.
“You can plainly see the excitement and the joy that everybody is having," she said.