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Parent brings community together with rock path

Submitted Photo Painted rocks of all colors and designs can be dropped off at the middle school through June 12 after 1 p.m. on weekdays or any time on weekends.

GOWANDA — 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 often go unnoticed. Yes, even something 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 told the OBSERVER. “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 others 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 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 16 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 12, and rocks can be dropped off any time after 1 p.m. Monday through Friday or during the weekend at any time.

Submitted Photo Gowanda resident Krissy Smith is working together with the village of Gowanda and Gowanda Central School District to collect painted rocks for a community path.

“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. “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.

“Our school district has been amazing,” she told the OBSERVER. “Currently, we have one of the most heart-centered administrations. I’m really grateful they’re partnering with me on this project.”

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 things we need in this community are hope and pride. I think that art is such a powerful way to connect people.”

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