Year in Review: Rock-painting woman helps set new and unusual World Record

Kathy Taylor in her Sarnia studio. Troy Shantz

Editor’s Note: This week we’re running our favourite people features of 2021, a reminder that even in difficult years good things happen. This one first appeared May 27.

Troy Shantz

A Sarnia woman is part of a Guinness World Record setting event involving painted rocks from around the world.

A total of 21,970 hand-painted rocks were gathered by organizers from the Joshua York Legacy Foundation in Baltimore on May 15, setting a new world record for most painted rocks in one place.

Eighty-five of the stones came from Kathy Taylor’s backyard studio. She’s been painting bright illustrations on found and donated stones the past four years.

“My friends, they all have rock gardens now,” she said with a laugh.

Sarnia residents have likely seen her work scattered here and there around town. The stones, which she paints for free, often feature inspirational messages or are personalized to honour a loved one who has died.

Families place them near headstones, memorials and gardens.

“What it does for them, it does for me too,” she said. “It’s amazing how something so simple can do it.”

It all began during a late-night chat with a friend who lost her son to suicide. As they sat, Taylor painted the Superman symbol on a rock and gave it to the family. They loved it, she said.

She has painted thousands more since, with the raw material provided to her by property owners across Sarnia-Lambton. The smoother the better, she said.

After applying flowers, symbols and landscapes she coats them in resin so they don’t fade outdoors.

When the pandemic arrived, she turned her attention to Bluewater Health, painting and placing 700 ladybugs for staff to enjoy when entering and exiting the building. Another 100 stones brighten the hospital’s rooftop garden for dementia and Alzheimer patients.

“They all smiled. I tried to be the happy person in the pandemic,” Taylor said.

The new Guinness World Record was achieved with stones from nine countries and all 50 U.S. states. The bigger goal was bringing awareness to mental health and suicide.

The Joshua York Foundation was founded by Joshua’s father William York following his son’s suicide in 2018. Joshua York’s mother died grief-stricken six months later.

Taylor sent three shipments. One of her stones painted with a Canadian flag made such an impression on organizers it was placed at the front of all 124 Canadian submissions.

The event easily surpassed the previous record of 8,000 stones in one place, organizers said.

The assembled rocks will be distributed across the U.S. and placed in random spots to spread a message of hope.