They are hidden in plain sight just about anywhere you might wander in north-eastern Ohio, in the United States.
In an exam room at Akron Children’s Hospital.
Just outside the entrance to Marc’s in Cuyahoga Falls.
Tucked on a shelf in the dog food aisle of Walmart in Brimfield Township.
They are rocks, but not your garden variety that everyone takes for granite.
They have been painstakingly painted – some with whimsical designs of cartoon characters, others with landscapes that would make the Old Masters proud – with the hope that someone will find them and then re-hide them for someone else to find.
And the ranks of these “rockers” continue to grow, as does the number of creative rocks left behind yet to be found.
There’s even a Facebook group – one of many – called Northeast Ohio Rocks that is dedicated to the sport of creating rocks and tracking where they end up.
Most of them bounce their way around north-east Ohio or end up on a shelf in the finder’s home. But some stow away on family vacations and end up in places like Las Vegas, Nevada, or Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
Some skip their way across oceans – thanks to the finder – to be left in exotic destinations like Peru or Europe.
So just who are the “artists” behind these rocks? They come from all walks of life, from kids to adults to senior citizens.
One such artist is Don Thorn who lives in the Ellet neighbourhood in Akron, Ohio.
He became hooked when he stumbled across a painted rock while walking the trail around Springfield Lake.
As a retired machinist, Thorn says, he had some time on his hands and he has always dabbled in photography and painting, so this looked like something fun to do.
He was a follower of the old Bob Ross show on PBS, where the crazy-haired artist would share his secrets to simple painting, focusing landscapes.
So it is no wonder that the rocks that Thorn specialises in are landscapes.
Over the past year or so, he figures he has painted and hidden some 70 rocks.
Like others in the craft, Thorn glues a piece of paper on the back of the rock that advertises the group’s Facebook page and also lists his hashtag, #Dthorn61, so he can keep track of where his artworks end up.
“People tell me more than likely those who find my rocks are keeping them,” he says. “My rocks are pretty detailed.”
So far, a healthy handful of Thorn’s rocks have been picked up, and the finders have posted photos on the Facebook page.
One rock was found twice in the same day, starting out at a bank then moving to a park.
Thorn uses layers of paint to make his creations and lets them dry. He then seals them with a clear spray so they can withstand whatever Mother Nature has to offer.
It’s a way to pass the time for him rather than sitting around watching TV.
“This is a lot of fun,” he says of his hobby. “It is very therapeutic for me. Just sitting around the house all winter I would have probably gone crazy.”
Thorn says he has as much fun hiding rocks for others to find as he does finding one left behind by a fellow enthusiast.
“I’ve found some rocks that I wanted to keep but I didn’t,” he says. “I want to spread the joy.”
The sentiment is shared by Sue Bauman. The Uniontown, Ohio, resident found a painted rock about a year ago and thought it was the “coolest” thing ever, so she decided to give it a try. She painted as a hobby and raises monarch butterflies, and this is just one more extension of her artistic side.
Bauman says she too likes to do landscapes but also dabbles in kid-friendly designs, because it is so much fun to leave one along the nature trail at the Springfield Bog then watch from a distance as a child finds it.
“That is the warm fuzzy feeling in all of this,” she says.
Like others who paint rocks, she admits it can become a bit addictive. She started by picking up nice small flat rocks around her property that would provide the perfect canvas.
“I quickly ran out of rocks,” Bauman says.
Painters have to become creative when searching for stones. Visits to stream beds or beaches are a good source for small flat rocks, as are local craft stores or even striking up a friendship with the owner of a landscaping company.
Bauman also has a hashtag, #rowenalouise, to track the whereabouts of her rocks.
While on vacation in Hilton Head, South Carolina, she left one behind and followed online its trek to an island in Georgia.
“It is fun to be a part of something where you are asking people to pay it forward,” she says.
And for Bauman, there’s the thought that someone might be going through a rough stretch and finding one might make a difference in their life.
“This is all about creating smiles,” she says. – Tribune News Service/Akron Beacon Journal/Craig Webb