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Great art ... It’s just a step away:
follow the “stepping stone” path to Rainbow Acres

Text & Photos by
Michael L. Mayhew

The pieces of colored glass spread out before Susan Welch reflect the bright twinkle of her eyes. She carefully positions them to fit within the pattern traced on the contact paper in front of her. She is completely focused on her task, placing each piece with loving care - for the stepping stone she’s making is a circular ambassador destined to show the world what a special place Rainbow Acres, her home, truly is. A smile stretches across her face as the design comes to life at her fingertips. This is going to be a good one!

But then all of the stepping stones created at Rainbow Acres in Camp Verde are “good ones.”

As a Christian-based residential community for developmentally disabled adults, Rainbow Acres encourages its Ranchers (residents) to participate in a variety of activities and programs, including the creation of stepping stones. (The residents are referred to as Ranchers to denote that they are individuals of worth and should be treated with dignity and respect.)

“Each stone is made with tender, loving care,” explains staff member Shannon Wiens, who along with staff member Harvey Schultheis, supervises the production process. “Ranchers like Susan put in a tremendous amount of effort and heart to make sure each stone is as good as it possibly can be.

“We started making stepping stones about two years ago,” continued Shannon. “They’ve been tremendously popular almost from the very beginning. We’re still able to keep up with the demand, but it can be a real strain at times.”

There are currently nine Ranchers involved in the creation of the stepping stones on a regular basis, but almost every Rancher has lent a hand at one time or another.

“The stepping stones are a great source of pride,” said Harvey. “The Ranchers see the joy the stones bring people who buy them, and they want to be a part of that.”

Rainbow Acres stepping stones come in a variety of shapes and designs. Full-size circular stones are around 14 inches in diameter and 1-1/2 inches thick. Medium-size stones are approximately 11-1/2 inches in diameter and the same thickness as the full-size stones. (Thickness can be customized to a certain extent.) Besides the ever popular circle, stones can be cast in the shape of squares, hearts, octagons, and hexagons. There are more than 20 designs currently available, with more being added all the time. Artwork ranges from cacti to angels. New to the roster are miniature stepping stones, which are around eight inches across and approximately 1/4 of an inch thick. 

“The small stones have really proven to be a huge success,” said Shannon. “People use them as hot plates, paper weights, or just as decorative accents for shelves, counters, tables, or desks. Like all of our stones, each is a one-of-a-kind item.”

The larger stones have a myriad of applications as well, and are used in gardens and yards as colorful landscaping accents, to create distinctive paths, and to compliment secret alcoves.

Regardless of the final use, all Rainbow Acres stepping stones start life the same way - as bits of disconnected colored glass and powdered cement. The Ranchers sort the scrap glass (donated by glass studios in Sun City West, Glendale, and Sedona) and organize it by color. The artwork is traced on contact paper, and Ranchers place appropriate colored glass on the adhesive side of the paper to fill in the design.

The paper is then carefully placed face down in the center of a mold. A special mixture of gravel, sand, cement, and "Sedona Red" powder is poured into the mold and allowed to set for several days. (Much of this material is also donated.) After they’re taken from the molds, a slurry is poured over the face of the stone and rubbed in to fill any small holes or gaps and to polish the glass. Although Sedona Red is the most popular color, stones are also available in slate gray. Regardless of the color, customer satisfaction is a high priority. 

“We do custom designs for people, as long as the artwork isn’t too complicated,” said Shannon. “We’ve done special stones with a person’s name in them, and we’ve even done a few corporate logos.”

Any way you look at it, these are special pieces of art. They conform to very high standards of quality and represent a unique blending of artistic skills and creative expression. Like any true art form, they embody more than just the sum of the physical parts - each Rainbow Acres stepping stone also carries the hopes and aspirations of its creators - a desire for self-sufficiency, for understanding, for acceptance, and for love. As a result, the true value of each stone greatly exceeds just its pragmatic functionality. Each stone that’s sold is a step on the path to the better world envisioned by the Ranchers.

With stepping stones from Rainbow Acres, great art is just a step away. And with the sale of every stone, a Rancher’s dream comes one step closer!

Please contact Rainbow Acres at (928) 567-5231 for additional information about stepping stones availability and pricing.

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