Jess Pagel created the Facebook group “WaunaRock” after moving to Waunakee in June 2019. She has been placing hand-painted pebbles throughout the village ever since.
The artist described it as part of a trend called the Kindness Rocks Project.
“Kindness rocks are where people paint rocks with messages or characters and then hide them,” Pagel said. “It’s amazing how a little message or character on a rock can make someone smile. And that’s the whole idea behind WaunaRock – to spread kindness throughout our community.”
Pagel said she learned about the project when her children stumbled upon a pebble in Kenosha, where the family is originally from, and discovered writing upon the bottom.
“The kids and I were going to the museum,” Pagel said. “And we were sitting on the trolley when my kids found a rock. And on the underside of the rock, it said, ‘Post a picture to Kenosha Rocks! on Facebook.’ And my kids just loved it.”
Searching for the rocks would become one of their favorite activities.
“They were so excited to look for the rocks,” Pagel said, “because it’s like a scavenger hunt. When you see a rock in a post, you might know where that place is and be able to find it. So it was something for us to do together while being creative and connecting with the community.”
Seeing how much her children enjoyed it, Pagel decided to continue their tradition in Waunakee. She and her children collected pebbles from Lake Michigan they could paint at their new home.
“My family is very creative,” Pagel said. “We all enjoy the arts. So bringing it to Waunakee was pretty important…It feels like a very close-knit community, and we kind of wanted to give back by doing WaunaRock.”
The Pagels began painting the pebbles and hiding them in the village.
“We put out probably 40-50 rocks in very public spaces for everybody to see,” Pagel said. “And the kids and I would enjoy riding around on our bikes to see if the rocks were still there, or if someone had taken them.”
Pagel said she and her children were excited to learn that all the pebbles had been picked up, but were disappointed to discover that their Facebook page had no recent activity.
“We were a little discouraged at first (when) we noticed that they were all gone but didn’t see anybody posting anything on the page,” Pagel said. “We were worried that someone might have thrown them away, or just kept them.”
Not to be deterred, Pagel and her children decided to hide even more rocks.
“We just persevered,” Pagel said, “painting rocks and posting them to the page. And sure enough, it traveled. And that’s what brought it to what it is now.”
Pagel’s Facebook page has since attracted more than a hundred members.
“There’s a lot of members from the community who have started painting and hiding rocks, too,” Pagel said. “A lot of families are starting to get involved with it because it’s for any age. Even senior citizens would enjoy it because it’s something to do, and it’s fun.”
The artist said she will be holding an event at the library Jan. 20, where children can take their own rock to hide somewhere in the village.
“It’s called WaunaRock the Library,” Pagel said. “It’s a great event to get the kids out, so that they’re not just sitting around at home and getting bored. We’re going to have rocks that are already painted, and kids are welcome to decorate them…and hide them at their own discretion.”
Pagel said the event is free of charge, and for children ages 5 and up.