A Mitchell woman has turned giving the gift of a rock into an art form.
Bettyann Klock was looking for something to help pass the time after she underwent hip replacement surgery in 2015. While she glanced through a copy of Good Housekeeping, she found pictures of an art project where simple faces were painted on small rocks.
It sounded fun. She decided to give it a try, and a new hobby was born.
“I looked in a magazine and there were these rocks with faces on them,” Klock said. “So I picked up some rocks outside, and I thought I could do that. Anybody can paint a rock.”
Her first painted rocks were basic, with images of happy faces or inspirational and faith-based phrases. But her interest in the hobby was growing beyond the simple motifs she started with. She began to draw inspiration from sources like Pinterest and began creating more complex images for her stone canvasses.
Now, she applies anything she finds uplifting to her artwork. She draws and paints mostly freehand on the uneven surfaces, occasionally cutting out a particular image and using it as a tracing for her to develop further with her palette of colorful, sparkly paints. She crafts images of animals, children, nature scenes and popular cartoon characters, often including the kinds of phrases that graced her first rocks years ago.
She finds rocks to use on her walks around town and from donations of field rocks from family and friends. She works fast. The self-confessed night owl will often produce several new pieces late at night when she has trouble sleeping, and on quiet afternoons and on weekends.
She said she had no particular artistic ambition when she first started.
“Anybody can write ‘faith’ on a rock and then give it away,” Klock said.
So that’s what she did. Noting she had often seen similar artwork for sale at stores, she decided since she was producing so many, she would start giving them away as gifts and tokens of good cheer.
“The very first ones I gave away to my friends,” Klock said. “I think I could fill two swimming pools with all the rocks that I’ve made for everybody.”
Her friends would show them to other friends and pass them around. She painted rocks at the request for family members who loved animals, and others who were battling illness. Around the Fourth of July, the American flag finds its way onto her rocks. She painted a scene of a bear in the woods on a 250-pound boulder by request for Northwest Counseling and Consulting in Kalispell, Montana.
She was surprised by the warm reception the stones received, so she kept creating them and finding more people to give them to. As a part-time substitute teaching aide and a day care worker, she found another audience in the youngsters in her life. And she would be creative about how to give them away, creating a little wonder along the way.
“I would put them on the playground and put them anywhere so the little kids would pick them up. This little 5-year-old girl went up to her teachers and showed it to them and said it was from Mars. We don’t have rocks around here with faces on them!” Klock said with a laugh. “She was serious.”
And she keeps finding more people who enjoy her work. She makes small headstones for pets that have died. Rocks with images of someone fishing with the phrase “Gone Fishing” that people put outside their front door when they actually go fishing. Small rocks painted to resemble smiling candy corns.
Jeanette Zens, who works at the front desk at Sanford Health in Mitchell, said she became aware of Klock’s work when she brought several in to share with patients.
“She started bringing in her rocks on different holidays, and she would say she just made these and if we had any kids who would like them to give them out,” Zens said. “My gosh, they were gone on the first day.”
The rocks made excellent gifts to children who may have had a scary trip to the doctor or just aren’t feeling well. She estimates she and fellow staffers have given away as many as 200 to patients since Klock began bringing them in.
“Little kids who get shots and aren’t feeling well, it brightens their day. And even some big people, too,” Zens said.
Zens requested a special rock for a family member and tried in vain to compensate Klock for her work.
“She won’t take money. I tried,” Zens said.
Klock confirms she is not interested in selling the rocks, though she said she does donate some to Sunrise Thrift, a local thrift shop, for them to sell with proceeds going to charity. She really is most interested in the reaction Zens described of people feeling down and needing a pick-me-up.
“We have to put a little cheer in their hearts, as well. Anything to cheer up somebody,” Klock said.
Klock said she plans to continue producing the keepsakes in her spare-bedroom studio into the foreseeable future. With Christmas right around the corner, Santa Claus and snowmen are some of the main subjects of her work at the moment. But there will always be time for rainbows, unicorns, inspirational messages and just about anything she or anyone else can think of.
As long as there is someone out there who may manage to find a smile in tough times through her painted rocks, she’ll keep applying her brush to the stones she finds.
Zens certainly hopes she does. Everybody needs a little sunshine in their life, she said, and the friendly little rocks fit the bill.
“I see it as a message of kindness. It’s a blessing. I didn’t know that rocks were such a thing, but I think they are,” Zens said. “It’s some brightness in a dull world.”
Though Klock said she is sometimes surprised her hobby has such an impact on people, she said she believes it when she sees or hears about people’s reactions. It makes something she enjoys doing anyway even more special.
“It works. Because sometimes I’ll drop it off to the person who ordered it and they’ll say they were having a bad day and this just made my day,” Klock said. “And I’m like, really?”