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From the heart: Culpeper crafter, 'the Rock Lady,' remembered at open house
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From the heart: Culpeper crafter, 'the Rock Lady,' remembered at open house

A life-long artist, Shirley Hoyt lived to craft and she loved to make other people happy by giving away her creations. This included thousands of painted rocks the Culpeper native lovingly placed everywhere around the area over the past several years or simply gifted out around the community.

Hoyt was an important part of the Culpeper Rocks social media movement, known by those who loved her as “the Rock Lady.” She amassed friends from around the country and world, sending her rocks through the mail across America and receiving the same from places as far as Alaska and Italy.

Shirley Hoyt made rocks to the end before passing away unexpectedly on Jan. 17, 2021 from cancer.

Culpeper Rocks friends and family last weekend visited the garage behind her lifelong home along Monticello Avenue to remember an artistically employed life that continues to give – through the distribution of her supplies.

In her honor, as she likely would have done, Hoyt’s family gave away her massive collection of art-making supplies, stocked from floor to ceiling in the garage.

Paint pens and brushes, bottled paints, glue guns, tiny straw hats, pens and stencils, clothespins, boxes of smooth rocks, painted rocks given to her and found, painted rocks by Hoyt and a large collection of seasonal outdoor wooden decorations Hoyt made, among many other items.

The word went out, of course, on the Culpeper Rocks Facebook page, and many people came to find a remembrance or two of Shirley.

She personally delivered rocks to local hospitals and doctor’s offices, nursing homes and the social services office, said her sister Sandy Elliott, as well as for the homeless and those living in shelters. Hoyt was the type of person to send a thank you card for receiving a thank card for her rocks.

“I want to thank all the wonderful Ladies at Culpeper Family Practice for the Thank You Card. It was so nice of you and I was really surprised when I opened it and saw it was from you. I have enjoyed painting and bringing you all rocks, more to come soon! Thank you again!” she wrote in a Culpeper Rocks Facebook post in the summer of 2019.

Hoyt also sent hand-written notes on or with her painted rocks encouraging the sick or bereaved or celebrating a birth or other special occasion. She painted through 2020 and a pandemic, posting photos of dozens of rocks for Halloween, Hoyt’s favorite holiday.

She left them at Walmart, JoAnn’s, Michael’s, the post office or elsewhere on her travels. Cartooned ghosts, scarecrows and pumpkin rocks wearing tiny straw hats were deposited for strangers to find or given to store employees. All the tools and trinkets she used to make her art covered tables in the garage on a chilly Saturday.

Inside, space heaters kept the air warm while mostly masked attendees recalled how Hoyt touched them with her art while taking some of her art-making goodies. Elliott said her sister would have wanted it this way.

“She has hundreds and hundreds of dollars of supplies and I think that’s what she would like me to do with it all,” she said. “She gave so many people so much joy.”

Hoyt’s youngest son Sam Kirby recalled his mom always making something while he was growing up – sewing, painting, ceramics or cut-out characters. He is an art teacher. Kirby said his mom would love to see the Culpeper Rocks open house in the garage.

“She loved the rock people,” he said. “When my dad passed away they were like a savior for her, to be able to go and socialize with them, paint and craft, it was a lifesaver. That’s why we wanted to do this because they were so instrumental in her life.”

Through the painted rock global phenomenon, bonds are forged locally.

“We just all decided to meet up one time and became friends and every so often get together and exchange rocks with one another,” said Doreena Corwin inside the garage last Saturday.

Hoyt was a beautiful lady, she added.

“She loved to give rocks to children because that was her thing, that made her happy,” Corwin said.

Culpeper Rock member Carolyn Zarn recalled Hoyt as the most caring person.

“And it came from the heart,” Zarn said, gathering some of her friend’s supplies. “She wanted to give to everybody ... It’s a real honor to have some of her things. I think she would love it.”

Zarn planned to hide some of the rocks uptown that she painted for Hoyt, reclaimed at the open house. Zarn said she had always loved finding rocks, but didn’t think she could paint: “It was Shirley that got me going saying, you can do it! I don’t think I can – yes you can!”

Culpeper and Manassas Rocks enthusiast Judy Harrak recalled when Shirley made her a memorial rock when her mother died. It had butterflies on it, her mom’s favorite.

“She reached out to me. I thought it was so sweet, it was amazing and she has talent – the care in it,” Harrak said. “My mom was blind for 40 years, I said let’s do colors because now she can see.”

Harrak, who moved to Culpeper in June, paints rocks with her granddaughter, the finished pieces comprising a rock garden outside of her house.

“Anything I find I put in there, but then we rotate, we always re-hide and they flow,” she said.

Cortney Downing-Bozarth, another painted rocker, came with daughters Willah and Layah to pick up some of Hoyt’s’ supplies for their own artistic endeavors.

“Shirley was doing the snowman ones and then everybody decided we were going to paint each other rocks and meet up, you know, complete strangers,” she said. “She and I bested each other, she said I’ll paint you one and I said I’ll paint you one.”

Jodi Weaver is married to Hoyt’s nephew and was a regular recipient of her craftiness. She recalled the ‘Despicable Me’ rocks Hoyt painted for her son for his birthday.

Weaver said her husband took after his aunt with the making of the seasonal cut-out characters. And when her son was born, Hoyt made him a keepsake baby blanket. “She always made sure they had something for the season,” Weaver said.

Shirley’s older son, Billy Hoyt, encouraged everyone to take what they wanted.

“Accessories, tons of Easter baskets, sombreros, cowboy hats, these little eyeballs, clothespins and magnets – anything you see,” he said, sorting through boxes.

He said of his mother, “I think she’d be so proud right now it wouldn’t be funny. Mom appreciated people liking her work and that meant more to her than anything. I done talked to her millions of times to market this stuff and she would have none of it. This is just a part of it. Mom, I tell you, she lived for this stuff. This was a big deal to her when she was healthy.”

At the end of Saturday’s craft extravaganza in memory of the Rock Lady Shirley Hoyt, every last piece of her supplies had found a new home.

“I know Shirley is overjoyed and smiling down, bless her heart,” posted Elliott on Culpeper Rocks. “I love you all.”

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