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Community Project: Painted Rock Path

Gowanda brings individuals and groups together to paint rocks; encourages other communities to do the same

Looking for new projects to keep little ones busy or to flex your own creative muscles? Interested in becoming part of a community art project? Now is the perfect time to collect a few rocks, dust off your paint brush, and get inspired!

While it may be difficult to find inspiration amid the uncertainty and fear created by COVID-19, to Gowanda alumna Krissy Bartholomew Smith, opportunities to create exist even in the ordinary moments - and objects - that go unnoticed. Yes, even an object as ordinary as a rock can become an opportunity for creativity and connection, which she believes we need now more than ever.

"We don't really realize how much we need each other, and then we're separated from our routine and what our normal is, other people and human contact," Smith said. "We're not meant to survive this experience alone and isolated. I think that art is such a powerful modality of feeling and a catalyst for connection."

Earlier this spring, Smith approached the village of Gowanda and the Gowanda Central School district to create a community painted rock path. "I reached out to Mayor Dave Smith and he was more than willing to create a space in town," she said. "We're hoping it can be at St. John's Park, but it's still in the works."

The idea grew out of Gowanda Rocks, a community Facebook page that Smith created for people to paint rocks and "hide" around the community. On the back of each rock, the artist writes #GowandaRocks. The goal of rock painting groups such as Gowanda's is for any individual to find a painted rock and hide it in another community - near or far - to share art and goodwill. Community rock groups exist throughout the country and have resulted in a sort of widespread treasure hunt where local rocks have made their way across the country, and other communities' rocks have made their way to Gowanda.

Originally, each student was going to paint a rock in school, but since the March 16th closure, plans changed. Now, students and community members are encouraged to get creative at home and add their rock to the collection bin at the Gowanda Middle School entrance. The bin will be out through June 12th, and rocks can be dropped off any time after 1:00 PM Monday through Friday or during the weekend at any time.

"The rock can be reflective of who they are, what they're about, or just some awesome artwork," she explained. "We're going to take all of these rocks - these individual pieces of art - to create one giant piece of art."

She recommends finding a flat or round rock, washing it and letting it dry. Use acrylic paint to create a base coat and allow the rock to dry thoroughly before applying more paint or paint pens for the design. When the design is complete, sign the back (optional), and spray with an acrylic sealer. For a step-by-step guide, view Smith's YouTube video: https://youtu.be/XnxSLP2UVEM.

So far, over 30 rocks have been painted and dropped off, and Smith is excited to see other creative contributions. Residents at Gowanda Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, as well as members of Boy Scout Troop 276 are painting rocks for the path, too. "Right now is a very strange time, but it's also been a time for reflection - it's a pace that we didn't have before," she said of the pandemic. Smith, whose three eldest children are Gowanda graduates, also has two current Gowanda students in seventh and ninth grade who are finishing up the school year at home.

For inspiration, Smith encourages all to check out Gowanda Rocks' Facebook page. Even those who do not consider themselves "artists" are exactly the individuals Smith hopes will take part in this project. "Honestly, I think humans are all artists," she said. "My son's an electrician - he's an artist. Every day, we wake up and we create, period. The underlying thing we need in this community is hope and pride. I think that art is such a powerful way to connect people."