Meticulously decorated rocks are popping up around Tacoma — in nooks of trees, on benches in city parks, tucked along the shore of the Ruston waterfront.
Flip them over and you’ll find a clue about their origins.
Many include instructions to search Facebook for Tacoma Rocks! and post a photo of their find. The Facebook page is made up of local art and rock enthusiasts who paint rocks and plant them around the city.
Similar to Monkeyshines — where local artists hide handmade treasures in the middle of the night around downtown Tacoma for Asian New Year — the rocks are left to brighten an unsuspecting person’s day.
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“Everyone who finds them feels like it was set out for them to find at that time,” said rock artist Michelle Sullivan.
As an example, Sullivan tells the story of a mother who was taking her premature baby home from the hospital after a long vigil in the neonatal intensive care unit.
As she left, she looked down and found a rock with a heart painted on it.
The woman shared a heartfelt message on the Tacoma Rocks! Facebook page about what that meant to her, Sullivan said.
It kind of becomes an addiction once you start.
Brooke Baker, founder Tacoma Rocks!
“We spread smiles one rock at a time,” she said.
Brooke Baker started the Tacoma Rocks group about eight months ago after coming across a similar group in Port Angeles. She knew she wanted to start the trend in Tacoma.
“I am totally about spreading smiles and joy and I just thought this would be a good way to carry that on,” Baker said. “I’ve done some painting with my kids, but nothing like this. It kind of becomes an addiction once you start.”
The group now has more than 2,300 members, according to its Facebook page. Rocks with Tacoma ties have been found across the country, including Tennessee and Missouri, and as far away as Australia.
Designs vary depending on artist. Some include intricate paintbrush work melding colors to create abstract designs. Others include sketches of birds, faces or, in one case, crayon scribbles from a child.
Baker paints rocks with her teenage daughter and her friends. When family visits everyone sits down to paint together, she said.
Sullivan paints her rocks in a home studio and enlists the help of 7-year-old granddaughter, Gryphon Hutcheson. Gryphon calls her grandma “Rockhead,” and Sullivan nicknamed the girl “Pebbles.”
The two like to hide their creations and wait to see then discovered.
“It doesn’t matter what the rock looks like, people get excited when they find it,” Sullivan said. “With everything going on in the world, people need a little whimsy to put on their face.”