By Jeff Louderback
Adria Bernstein will be the first to tell you that she embraces her whimsical sense of humor, so much that she has carved (or more specifically, painted) a niche and created an art form out of breathing personality into rocks.
Launched in 2009, Witty Wocks (www.wittywocks.com) evokes Bernstein’s passion for transforming rocks from inanimate objects into colorful keepsakes using mostly paint and glue. It typically requires just four to five hours for her to take a photograph of a pet, a person, a logo or an object (like Kenny Loggins’ guitar) and form the same image on a rock.
Fueled by a curious mind she says has brimmed with ideas and imagination since she was a little girl, Bernstein could not decide on a profession after graduating from Seminole High School. She started out attending a fashion and interior design school and then opted to study forensics before getting accepted into a nuclear medicine program. Her focus shifted once again when her son, Ari, was born – not long after she was certified as a dental assistant.
“Since I was a little girl, I always thought that rocks are beautiful in their natural state,” Bernstein said. “Then one day a few years back I was observing a rock and imagined how it could serve as a blank canvas that could be brought to life.”
Bernstein’s first foray into rock art was a depiction of her stepfather. She followed with an image of Ari, who was a toddler at the time. Bernstein started to dabble with pets and more people, and she was pleasantly surprised by the feedback from friends and family members.
“People were amazed that a simple rock – something that people see and mostly ignore every day – could be used as a source to make a meaningful memento,” Bernstein said. “Even today, the most satisfying part of Witty Wocks is the responses I get from customers.
“A Witty Wock is a one-of-a-kind gift because it is personal,” Bernstein added. “And it is something that makes you feel happy and smile.”
Bernstein admits that her mind is always stirring with ideas and she rarely gets a full night’s sleep. That proved especially helpful in the wee hours of one morning.
“I didn’t have a name for the business and I was wide awake in the middle of the night,” Bernstein said with a laugh. “That’s when it hit me. ‘Witty Wocks.’ That is a name that reflects the fun nature of the art, and my sense of humor.”
At first, Witty Wocks was a hobby, but the positive feedback about the pieces inspired Bernstein to turn it into a business. In the early stages, she gathered rocks from her mother’s backyard but eventually worked out an arrangement with a local landscape company. Bernstein has painted Witty Wocks of celebrities like Loggins, Ellen Degeneres and Jay Leno. Michael Jackson, who remains one of Bernstein’s favorite recording artists, is the favorite Witty Wock of Ari, who is now 5.
Bernstein’s favorite celebrity Witty Wock moment arrived one day when she walked to the mailbox and pulled out an envelope from the White House.
“I made a Witty Wock of President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama and send it to them, never expecting to get a response,” Bernstein said. “I did a happy dance when I opened the envelope and read the ‘thank you’ note.”
Bernstein is passionate about charitable endeavors and has started a Wock-2-Wock program that provides a ‘happy Witty Wock’ to children who are diagnosed with cancer. The 40-year-old single mother has expanded her artistic expression to dolphins as well. She was commissioned to complete four dolphins for the dolphin art exhibition in Clearwater, an event that featured six-foot fiberglass dolphins individually themed and decorated.
Established after the success of “A Dolphin Tale” – the movie that was filmed in Clearwater and featured the story of Winter, a bottlenose dolphin who resides at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium – the exhibition was disbanded in September 2012 but the dolphins can still be seen at businesses, restaurants and other destinations across Florida as part of the state’s Dolphin Trail. One of Bernstein’s dolphins, “Satchmo,” is showcased at the 1-10 Welcome Center in Pensacola.
Bernstein was so inspired from the responses about her dolphins that she is now taking orders for “mini dolphins” to accompany her Witty Wocks.
Now that Witty Wocks is an established business that has gradually grown over the last four years, Bernstein is seeing an increase in orders for pets, people, sports mascots and logos. She envisions continued growth for the Witty Wocks and the mini-dolphins, and she is starting to create her own version of sharks, even incorporating shark’s teeth that she finds on beaches.
“One day, I would like to have a retail location that will double as my studio,” said Bernstein, who last year gained certification as a graphic artist. “I love the interaction I have with the people for whom I create the Witty Wocks. Their smiles, tears and hugs – their expressions of appreciation – tell me that I am pursuing the right passion.”