Sunset Rock–for Ashley

Kathy King Johnson, Executive Director of the Cheboygan Area Arts Council

In 2006, on a hot summer night, two Cheboygan teens drove down to the City Park, best friends, bored, restless rebels, full of life and fun. They dreamed of the future and leaving high school behind. The girls parked the car with the headlights pointed at a rock. They started work, giggling and nervous, turning the lights out when a random car pulled up that slow, muggy night on the shores of Lake Huron. Any car might be the police.  

With their paints from Walmart, using the uneven surface of stone as their palette, they recreated sunset on the lake. Scallops in the rock became the ripple of waves, a long fissure became the horizon line.  The colors of sky became the colors of the water, brilliant reds, warm golds fusing into the indigo of night.  

Every day the light of the sun flowed over the rock. It touched the paint, lit the shadows and created movement in the stillness of the rock. It brought the rock to life and fired our imaginations.

Ashley’s stone became etched in our memories.  Children played there, couples parked; families drove in to eat their dinner from Yeck’s and watch the sunset live at Sunset Rock. Grandparents sat on the bench by the rock, lulled by the sun, listening to the waves splash on the shore, watching the mergansers land and the swans teach their cygnets how to dive for food.

The girls graduated and grew up. Ashley played softball at Alma. She met a man she loved.  And she returned to Cheboygan. She took a job that made a difference in the lives of the children and families of her home town. Her art took new forms. She learned to crochet, and she created dolls of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. One doll ended up in Justice Ginsburg’s office and another starred in a TV show.

For thirteen years, the rock was blanketed by snow, warmed by the sun, whipped by the wind and washed by the seiches that push the water all the way over the rocks as Lake Huron sloshes in it shores. The paint faded, and the sunset became a misty haze, retreating into the gray granite. 

Then last November, Ashley passed away, only thirty years old.

A few days ago, an anonymous artist returned and repainted Sunset Rock, a story of Cheboygan set in stone and preserved by the people. Ashley’s hand was on the paintbrush.

Photo by Tony Johnson

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