Local woman paints and hides rocks, hoping to inspire others
During the last four months, Sharleen VonNormann has painted 300 rocks with inspirational sayings and beautiful scenes, hiding them around town in the hopes that others will find them, keep them or re-hide them and be inspired to in turn paint and hide their own.
At the heart of her rock paintings is a desire to cultivate kindness. At the same time that she began painting rocks, VonNormann created #homerkindness, part of the national kindness movement, using her rocks to promote caring, encouragement and joy.
Some of her rocks depict wildlife, flowers, underwater scenes and mandalas — these are Homer Rocks, while others have sayings — Somebody Loves You, You Matter and Be the Reason Somebody Smiles — these are Homer Kindness Rocks.
"I hope that when someone finds a rock, it means something to them," she shared. "Maybe that message is for them or maybe it is for them to pass on to someone else."
One community member told her that she found one of her rocks at a grocery store, with 'Be the person that makes someone smile today' painted on it. She walked around the store with it while she shopped, then gave it to a person in line behind her, who cried upon receiving it.
"I've heard many stories that people who find the rocks needed the message on those rocks," she said.
An important and fun aspect of her rock paintings project is the Facebook page, Homer Rocks, created by Elise Boyer, which provides a way to track the rocks. When rocks are painted, she writes #homerrocks on the back, along with her initials, and sometimes, 'keep me' or 'hide me', with the idea that when the rocks are found, those individuals will post where they found them and if they are keeping or re-hiding them, giving clues as to the new location, or not.
"Once you paint and hide a rock, you have to let it go, but it is exciting to see who's hiding rocks and who's finding them," she said.
She first started hiding rocks in the flowerbeds at the post office and was surprised when they were still there days later. Now, she often sees people picking up the rocks before she even leaves the parking lot.
VonNormann was inspired to paint and hide rocks when she came across a Ninilchik Rocks Facebook page hosted by Jim Taylor, a Ninilchik resident who was painting and hiding rocks. She took a rock painting class at Skiff Chicks and painted her first rock, a scene in the woods with a tent, campfire and a couple of trees, which became a gift to her son.
When she started, she found design ideas on Pinterest and in books, but the more she paints, the more she comes up with her own ideas. She especially enjoys painting polar bears and underwater scenes and has been painting a series of Cool Kids rocks, depicting kids engaged in activities like swimming or fishing. She hides these in places where she hopes kids will find them and hopes to one day create a Cool Kids Rock book.
Prior to painting rocks, VonNormann shared that the only thing she ever painted were her fingernails and the walls of her house. Now, using small brushes, acrylic paints and a waterproof sealant, she paints nearly every day, anywhere from five to 15 rocks at a time that each take between 15 minutes to two hours to complete.
She often invites friends over and they all paint together.
"It's a fun and cheap hobby and it's easy to gather rocks and get paint locally," she said.
Numerous rock groups exist around the state, including in Juneau, Anchorage, Kenai, Soldotna and Fairbanks, as well as around the country. Currently, Homer Rocks has 800 members and one national group has more than 6,000 members.
VonNormann belongs to other rock groups, where members paint and mail rocks to one another.
"We paint two rocks, writer Homer Rocks or whatever place we live in on the back and mail them off," she shared. "The idea is that the person receiving them keeps one and hides the other."
She is also a member of Rock Painting Addict Support Group.
A mother and a grandmother, VonNormann, whose nickname is Charlie Girl, was born in Camp LeJeune, N.C. She was active in politics and worked for the labor unions in Los Angeles. She moved to Homer in 1989, after spending a summer visiting a friend.
"When we came over the hill and I saw the mountains, the spit and the water, something happened to me," she shared. "I knew I was home."
For 25 years, VanNormann worked as a bartender, serving drinks at local watering holes, including Duggan's, AJ's, the Down East, American Legion, Elks Lodge and Kharacters. She is now retired and, in addition to painting rocks, volunteers at the animal shelter and with hospice.
VonNormann hopes that her painted rocks will inspire others to paint, hide and find rocks, creating an even larger Homer Kindness and Homer Rocks community of connection, caring, joy and beauty.
"These rocks ask us to be more aware of what's around us," she said. "To take the time to enjoy our surroundings and to be grounded."
Join VonNormann for a free rock painting class for adults at Portside Coffee from 2 to 5 p.m. Feb. 10. Space is limited. Call the coffee shop to reserve your spot at 399-4460.