The children’s rock garden grows in Washoegal

Washogall residents Cathy Deering and Rich Beck have operated The Paint Roller – a mobile company that offers “paint parties” activities at birthday celebrations, special events, schools, and local businesses – since 2015.

“We really enjoy working with the kids,” Beck said. “We talk about it all the time—when we draw parties for adults, they say, ‘Oh, that’s not good, I don’t know what to do’ and all that, but with the kids, they’re excited. (They say), ‘Look at this—that’s cool.’ And that’s great.”

Now, business owners have helped create something the whole city can enjoy using children’s art as inspiration.

On May 14, Dering and Beck joined Washougal City leaders at a ribbon-cutting party to celebrate the opening of Washougal Children’s Rock Park, the city’s first interactive public art facility created by children.

“It’s very exciting,” Dearing said. “I’m so excited because it took so much (work) to get it done.”

The garden began with 115 painted boulders that Dearing and Beck had collected from children over the past two months, as well as stones painted by the youngsters during the ceremony.

Dering and Beck hope that the composition of the garden will change over time, as people take stones out of the garden and place new ones in them on a regular basis. Their motto for the garden says, “Leave one for inspiration, take one for motivation.”

“I think this is painted rock culture — it’s like a scavenger hunt,” Beck said. “You can take one or leave one for someone else.”

Dering and Beck started thinking about “a rotating interactive public artwork created by children” after hearing a discussion about public art during a Washoogal City Council meeting in 2019.

“One council member said one of the ways Washougal could differentiate itself, unlike Camas and other towns, is to raise the bar for public art — the sculptures, the murals…that kind of thing,” Beck said. “We’ve been doing mobile parties for a while, and we loved[working]with the kids, and by that time we were working with the school district doing things for the kids. So we thought, ‘OK, general art for the kids,’ because it wasn’t brought up. It wasn’t on the radar. From the way they speak.”

After talking to then-mayor Molly Coston about their idea, they presented their plan, first to the city council, then to the city parks council. They were optimistic that it could unite quickly — until the COVID-19 pandemic spreads.

The idea remained “on the back burner,” Dearing said, until last summer, when they approached Michelle Wright, the city’s director of public works, to talk about “movies in the garden” events in Washougal and they raised the rock garden.

“I said, ‘By the way, this has nothing to do with Movies in the Plaza,’ but we want to create a rock garden. And she said, “How about a community garden?” Dearing said.

As COVID cases and hospitalizations began to decline, Wright asked Dearing if the spring launch might work.

‘And I said, ‘Okay,’ said Dearing.

Dering and Beck have collected rocks at four events – three “Paint Parties” held in conjunction with Washougal Youth Arts Month in March, and the Hello Spring Community Fair in Washougal on April 30.

At each event, they encouraged the children to pick out two rocks from a 5-gallon bucket, grab a paint pen and get to work, but they did not give them any other directions other than that they could take one of the rocks home and donate the other to the garden.

“Going forward, we’ll do the same,” Dearing said. “Anything we do to schools, any event we’re at, we’re going to have them paint rocks—one we take home and one we take to the garden.”

“It’s amazing, some of the things they make. I wouldn’t have thought of some (these designs),” added Dearing. “It was great to see how art the kids are, and how amazed their parents are at what their kids come up with.”

Beck said the park would be something “unique” to Washougal and “good for community building,” and he re-emphasized the fact that Washougal is an “artists’ city.”

He said, “…not just for (the children) and their families, it’s for everyone. If people are walking in the past, or walking their dog or going to the new playground right next to the park or using that space, they can look at it and say, ‘That’s great The people in Washoegal made it.”

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