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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Love Rocks: New Spokane group spreads sunshine, one painted rock at a time

By Cindy Hval For The Spokesman-Review

You can find them in area parks, on hiking trails, tucked into Little Free Libraries and even at Cancer Care Northwest facilities – small pieces of artwork, free to the finder.

The popularity of painted rocks grew by leaps and bounds in the Spokane area during the pandemic, with several groups spreading positive messages via painted rocks.

Stacey Ailie began painting in earnest in 2019.

“I built a Little Free Library, and I thought it would be fun to have rocks there,” she recalled. “I met a couple of artists and started hosting lessons in my backyard.”

Ailie met Ellie Presley when she found one of their rocks in Friendship Park and reached out to offer advice about sealants.

“I moved here in 2020 during the pandemic and I didn’t know anyone,” Presley said. “This was a way for me to find connection – a way to make me feel like I was doing something good.”

Presley now lives in Ailie’s home and nine months ago the pair launched a new painted rocks group: Love Rocks Art Squad Spokane. The group is dedicated to giving back to the community by donating thousands of painted rocks to various causes.

They’d previously donated their art to Cancer Care Northwest and when that organization reached out asking for more rocks, Ailie said that prompted them to launch Love Rocks Art Squad.

“We supply painted rocks to four clinics,” she said. “When patients come in for treatment they can choose a rock that speaks to them.”

The colorful stones often feature animals or nature scenes. Many include positive messages like, “Choose Joy,” or “Be Someone Who Makes Everyone Feel Like Someone.”

Recently, Ailie and Presley delivered a batch to the Cancer Care Northwest center in Spokane Valley .

“It was a lot of fun to see how they were displayed,” Presley said.

To date, they’ve given 1,182 miniature works of art to the organization, and those gifts are greatly appreciated.

“Cancer Care Northwest is so grateful to all the volunteers who take the time to create and distribute these rocks to our community,” said CCNW nurse practitioner Chris Fiorentino. “These small unique gestures of hope bring encouragement, joy and comfort to the patients at Cancer Care Northwest during a time in their lives when they need it most. Going through cancer treatment is difficult, and these rocks can be a positive light in their journey.”

Ailie knows firsthand how important that light can be.

In August 2021, her son, Craig Cunningham, 30, died by suicide. The painted rocks community surrounded her during her grief.

“They showed up. They sat with me. They brought food and gift cards,” she recalled. “Ellie wasn’t living here, but came over to take my dog for a walk and to get me out of the house.”

Fellow artists painted 70 rocks for Cunningham’s memorial service, most of them featuring insects because that’s what he loved.

“No parent should ever have to say goodbye to a child,” Ailie said. “They helped me through an impossible time and they didn’t just disappear after the initial loss. (Group member) Karen Lake showed up on the one-year anniversary to make sure I was going to be OK.”

When Ailie and Presley launched Love Rocks Art Squad Spokane, they knew they needed a way to motivate more artists to contribute, so they began holding raffles.

“The more rocks you painted, the more entries you have to win the raffle,” Ailie explained.

Prizes usually include an assortment of handcrafted items.

In addition to supplying Cancer Care Northwest with rocks, the group is gearing up to donate hundreds of rocks to the Garland Business District for the annual Garland Rock Hunt on April 29.

Ailie continues to host classes at her North Side home. In July, professional artist Bob Kimball came from Las Vegas to teach two workshops in her backyard. New members are welcome and can find the group on Facebook at Love Rocks Art Squad Spokane.

Presley credits painted rocks with helping her find community in her new home.

“There are many different rock groups,” said Presley. “All with the same mission – to make people’s days brighter. It’s a really rewarding hobby. It makes you feel good.”

Contact Cindy Hval at