DELMAR — Casting rocks at your neighbors is frowned upon, normally. Delmar Rocks, a local group of artists, has changed that perception by spreading friendler messages and with a kinder delivery.
The loosely organized troupe follows a simple goal. They paint rocks with positive messages and deposit them around town with the hope people find them. It’s a bit of a makeshift cache hunt, except there are no instructions other than those found on the backside of a found rock. Rocks that are found are done so by happenstance.
Tanya Underwood started the movement last spring. Like 1.4 million other New Yorkers last April, the mother of one was newly unemployed in the midst of a pandemic. Time spent home was suddenly in abundance. It was then she opted to round up a few friends from the neighborhood to paint.
“It was a pandemic. I had just been laid off from my job. We were all kind of home quarantining it,” said Underwood. “I talked to a couple of my friends and I said let’s get our friends together and paint some rocks, try to start something up in Delmar.”
Underwood said she was inspired by a similar movement in Berlin, Connecticut. The idea was to paint hearts and positive messages upon rocks. Rocks, because they’re sustainable and could weather the elements.
On the first day, Underwood corralled a few fellow moms and their children, and they all painted a dozen rocks. Afterwhich, the rocks were taken to a few public locations with the intent that they would be found. The first of such locations was the Albany County Helderberg-Hudson Rail Trail.
The 10-mile rail trail that runs through Delmar seemed to be the ideal spot. With state-mandated shutdowns, the trail was choked by increasing numbers of residents lost with idle time. The trail has served as a community place, hosting charity runs and chalk walks since it opened in 2016. In that first year, the county estimated 164,000 people used the Delmar spur of the trail. It was even more popular last April, as one biker observed.
“A bit crowded, but that’s to be expected when the weather is finally in the 60s and COVID-19 has been cooping us all up in the house,” wrote Aarika Moak on Alltrails.com.
The project itself has taken legs of its own, Underwood said. People have found rocks, joined the group’s social media channels, and have painted their own rocks to be found around town.
The group’s Facebook page has garnered more than 600 followers since Underwood launched the page last spring. Today, it has a rolling news feed of pictures from people who found a rock, some of whom posed with it for a selfie soon after discovery.
The evolution of the movement has also created a means to support local businesses. Aleta Lyons, one of Underwood’s friends, has recently painted rocks representing restaurants and dropping them off to be found near their doorsteps. One of her rocks depicting peeping eyes reading an open newspaper was found in front of The Spotlight.
Underwood was introduced to one of the rocks upon a recent visit to O’Slatterey’s. When she walked in, one of the restaurant’s staff members excitedly asked if she saw the rock outside. She knew it wasn’t one of hers, which only makes her happy, she said. She has watched talented artists take up the mantle, spreading more smiles across town. She went back outside to go see and recognized the work. “Yep. That’s one of Aleta’s,” she said.
It’s been nearly a year since Underwood rolled with the idea of painting those first rocks, and the movement doesn’t appear to be gathering any moss. She’s now working, but still keeps tabs with the group. She’s since learned that local rocks have been discovered in Waterford and Syracuse. She’s also connected with the Berlin Rocks group for each to exchange and hide rocks across New England.
“It’s been so tough, that’s why in some ways this was so therapeutic,” Underwood said. “It helps you to meet people. I’ve met people through this and learned about their situations, building our networks.”
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