Pebbles hide in every corner of Jean Ferguson Ward’s house—stacked, lined up, glued to her bathroom wall. “I have enough stockpiled to bring me into 2030,” the Colchester resident joked.
Ferguson Ward is known around town as the rock lady—but not in a crazy way. Her original pebble art and classes have taken the town by storm and her local business, Once Upon A Rock, has blossomed since starting in 2015.
Since March of this year alone, she’s created over 300 pieces—each one slightly different, captured within a tiny frame no bigger than five by five. One picture showcases a round stone in the shape of a camper, complete with sea glass prayer flags and a miniature tree. Another displays six pebble people lined up cozily on a piece of driftwood with the words, “family” emblazoned along the top.
Ferguson Ward works the equivalent of two full time jobs, having slimmed down hours at her third full time gig—being a single mom of three—only because her boys have grown up and moved out. In addition to starting her own business, Ferguson Ward works between fifty to sixty hour weeks as an operations manager for a plumbing and heating company, on-call 24/7.
“After working a ten hour day, I come home and make some more pieces,” Ferguson Ward told the Sun. But her art feels more like relief than another job.
“It’s my stress-reliever,” she said, sifting through a tray of driftwood Santa ornaments. “Rocks are grounding; they truly bring you back to the earth. You would think I would be the most grounded person in the world,” Ferguson Ward said laughing.
While she’s always making pebble art, Ferguson Ward’s other current objective is to build up her Christmas inventor, hence the driftwood Santas. This year, she painted a sprig of holly on Santa’s hat, a departure from last year. “Looking back at the old ones, they look naked!” she said laughing. “I’m going to have to go back and give them all holly sprigs. I can’t have naked Santas.”
“This—” she gestures to some rocks nestled in with the Santas, “is my saving grace. I think that’s why I’ve had the success that I’ve had. People get the passion behind it.”
That passion is what separates her classes from others, and what makes her weary of the dirty word: “crafting.”
“Anybody can learn to knit or sew,” explained Ferguson Ward. “I always said I was ‘crafting’ or going to ‘craft shows’ but then somebody said to me, ‘No Jean, you don’t craft. You create art.’ That means a lot to me, that people see it as art. I treasure that.”
While the longtime Colchester resident said she cannot remember a time when she didn’t love rocks, she pinpointed her fore into the world of pebble art as beginning in 1994. Pregnant with her first son, Ferguson Ward remembered finding a rock shaped like a Christmas tree, leading her to create a holiday scene out of rocks and paint in honor of her baby.
Although her two oldest sons have moved out of the house, leaving her with newly empty rooms, Ferguson Ward’s studio is downstairs in the basement. “After the boys moved out, I tried to move my studio upstairs because it’s dank, dark down here,” she said, then paused for effect. “No creativity. I get up there, I cannot work.”
So her studio remains in the basement, tucked behind storage boxes, a rumbling water heater, and two massive tubs full of pebbles.
Piled precariously in one corner sits her driftwood stock; frames of various sizes fill a wall-to-wall shelf on the other side; and organizers full of pebbles line her worktable. Labels on the drawers read, “legs,” “heads,” and, “boats.”
“For the shape of the pebbles,” Ferguson Ward explains laughing. Most of the time, she goes to the beach without a clear idea in her mind, but prefers to be inspired by the stones she finds. “I will just sit at the beach in my spot and go through pebble after pebble, looking for legs, or vases, or bodies. Some are so unique you can’t leave it there. It could be something someday.”
The tubs of pebbles were a Christmas gift from one of her sons, as pebble-searching becomes difficult in the winter. “He brought the beach to me,” she said.
At the heart of her work, Ferguson Ward loves the opportunity to make something out of nothing and sharing that with others. “It’s my happy place,” she said.
Her next class will take place on August 20 in South Hero. For more information about pebble art or to sign up for a class, visit Jean Ferguson Ward’s website: https://onceuponarockvermont.com.