Who knew tiny, colorful dots on rocks could make so many people smile?
For the past three years, people across the United States have been enjoying little labors of love created by a local artist who gets inspired by a rocky canvas—literally. Deborah Haltiwanger must see dots in her sleep because there are usually only two or three evenings each month during which she's not dot-painting rocks to hide for other's enjoyment.
"Deborah's Mandalas," which are rocks of various colors and sizes she paints with intriguing geometric configurations, are found in local parks, alongside office sidewalks, inside malls, on boats, at beaches and outside restaurants—even showing up as far away as California and in Oregon with a rugby team! On the back of each rock are instructions: "When found, post picture to Lake Murray SC Rocks on Facebook—Deborah. Keep or rehide. You decide." And, finders are glad to oblige by sharing their decisions online.
Yet, the woman who creates these little treasures never painted artistically before picking up rocks to adorn.
"It all started when my granddaughter found a painted rock and told me, 'You could do this,'" Deborah recalls. "I can't draw a stick figure, and I'd never painted before, but well, I thought and thought about it and decided maybe I could decorate rocks."
Deborah tried her hand at painting a stone, was quickly hooked, and hid her first rock in Gilbert Community Park. Her rocks got so popular, she had to start hiding them at night so people wouldn't just follow her around during the day while she hid them.
"I paint merely to make people happy. I've now been asked to do other art projects, but the mandalas are the only things I can do," she adds, indicating that she's not trying to be famous or attract recognition.
Because Deborah now paints hundreds of rocks annually, they come from a variety of sources. People give them to her, she finds some, they are collected from around the lake, she goes to landscaping companies to hand-select them, and she even orders them from online. She says she's also taken to sometimes making her own faux rocks from a cement-like mix and silicone molds. Indeed, she has to make enough painted rocks to send boxfuls of them with another granddaughter who attends Winthrop University in Rock Hill and who likes to hide them all over campus.
Asked how much money she invests in these special painted pebbles, she says, "Oh, Lordy, I quit counting. It's a lot. But if the mandalas make someone smile, it's all worth the cost."
As a community happiness volunteer, Deborah's been known to even mail some mandalas to those who cannot physically get outdoors and look for them anymore.
"Through these rocks, we all become friends for life," she says.
After all, the painted rock movement is about random acts of kindness and sharing a little piece of art with strangers. For Deborah, mandala rocks also are about making someone's day brighter or sending a little message of encouragement without expecting anything in return.
Fun Fact: The Kindness Rock Project was believed to be started in 2015 by Megan Murphy, who wrote, "You've got this" on a rock and left it on a Cape Cod beach. After a friend found it, Megan started leaving more rocks with inspirational messages in public places.
"I paint rocks merely to make people happy." –Deborah Haltiwanger, creator of Deborah's Mandalas