After 40 Years, The Rock Gets a Cleaning

Campus Life

October 21, 2021


The Rock, one of Hollins’ most beloved campus landmarks, has received a much-needed restoration with the removal of nearly four decades of paint.

The shale sitting near West Campus Drive got a cleaning and a fresh coat of primer from the university’s paint crew. The Rock has stalwartly served as Hollins’ community billboard, but the layer of  paint from 40 years of student-generated celebrations, proclamations, and other announcements had become so thick that it had begun cracking and separating from the stone.

Rock PreCleaning
The Rock’s paint layer had become so thick that it was cracking and separating from the stone.

The first painting of the Rock is attributed to Hollins’ class of 1982. According to “Rock of Ages,” an article in the Fall 1995 issue of Hollins magazine by Karen Adams, “It began as a harmless bit of fun when Wayne and Pam Reilly (professor of political science and director of institutional research, respectively), who were advisors to the Class of ’82, suggested that it would be amusing if each member of the senior class painted her name on the Rock. When, afterward, some folks on campus disagreed, the Rock was washed clean.

“Nonetheless, another ‘instant tradition’ was born. One by one, students sneaked up to the Rock in darkness and secrecy to emblazon their special messages. Over and over the Rock was washed and painted, washed and painted. At some point students began using enamel paint and from then on the messages were permanent – until they were painted over.”

Rock Paint Layer Removal
Members of Hollins’ paint crew remove the paint layer from the front of the Rock.

While the Rock’s role as a message center dates back to the early 1980s, its campus “debut” occurred much earlier. Adams wrote, “Professor emeritus of chemistry and champion of rocks Betty Gushee, who first adopted the Rock, says that it was dragged with some difficulty from the bowels of the earth when the Dana [Science Building] basement was dug in 1965.

“Gushee remembers the day it appeared. ‘A look at fresh, unweathered rock, particularly shale, is hard to get, so occasionally I happened over from Pleasants, where the natural sciences were housed then, to look at the excavation. One day while I was there a backhoe was having a hard time moving a large hunk of rock to be loaded onto a truck, so I asked the operator to leave it as a free-standing sample of our native rock. He did…and I used it as a geology teaching tool for a number of years.’”

Rock Cleaned
Thoroughly cleaned, the Rock will be ready for painting again after receiving a coat of primer.