For Sorensen, Freedom Rocks are a labor of love

For Greenfield artist Ray “Bubba” Sorensen, painting Freedom Rocks across the state of Iowa is a labor of love and a special way of promoting patriotism and saying “thank you” to America’s military heroes who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country.

The original Freedom Rock was unveiled more than 20 years ago on the side of a road in Adair County. Today, it attracts nearly 15,000 visitors annually, and each year in honor of Memorial Day, Sorensen returns to paint a new scene on the boulder that’s become a regional and national tourism attraction.

Over the past eight years, Sorensen has also painted unique 60-ton Freedom Rocks for 94 of Iowa’s other counties. The remaining four Iowa Freedom Rocks - in Linn, Jones, Jefferson and Henry counties - are expected to be completed this year.

Inspiration for the original Freedom Rock, Sorensen said, came from watching the movie “Saving Private Ryan.”

“I went out to an old graffitied, large boulder dubbed then ‘The Rock’ and painted the flag raising at Iwo Jima,” he said. “After that, every year for Memorial Day I create a new mural on the original to continue to honor our veterans. I am not commissioned to do this one, as it’s my gift to our veterans. The Freedom Rock Tour started in 2013, when I announced and was individually commissioned to paint a smaller version of the original in each of Iowa’s 99 counties.”

Each county’s Freedom Rock has a local touch. The Mills County Freedom Rock, for example, pays tribute to James Kearney III and James “Jamie” Skalberg, Jr., two local soldiers who died while serving in the Afghanistan War. The Mills County Freedom Rock was dedicated in 2015.

The Montgomery County Freedom Rock in Red Oak’s Fountain Square Park, completed in 2020, has a rural theme and includes a troop train and tributes to the Red Oak Victory Ship and the famous World War II “Red Bull” unit.

“I do research on each county or area that I will be painting and rely on each host committee to do the same,” Sorensen said. “We then compare notes and decide what would make for an interesting mural.”

In a 2018 interview with the Red Oak Express, Sorensen said it’s not unusual for changes to be made from the time he starts drawing sketches to what the final product ends up being. Changes can be made all the way up until the time an individual rock is actually painted, which usually takes one to two weeks once work has commenced. Sorensen typically spends nearly the entire month of May making changes and additions to the original Freedom Rock in Adair County, which he identifies as his “favorite.”

Sorensen said he’s had a passion for art since childhood.

“I’ve loved art and worked on art for as long as a I can remember,” he said. “My first commission was in high school and I became a graphic designer and then a full-time mural artist later in life. My influences include but are not limited to Norman Rockwell, LeRoy Neaman and my art teachers.”

In 2020, Sorensen announced the painting of the 100th rock in Iowa to mark the end of his 99-county tour. An auction will be held for the towns that missed out on getting the freedom rock in their community. The highest bidder will get the rock and proceeds will go to a veteran’s charity.

In addition to painting Freedom Rocks, Sorensen does murals, personal sketches and digital design. In addition to being an artist, Sorensen serves in the Iowa Legislature as the representative for House District 20.

For additional information on the Freedom Rock project, visit thefreedomrock.com.

Southwest Iowa Freedom Rock Locations:

Adams County – Corning.

Cass County – Lewis.

Fremont County – Hamburg.

Harrison County – Missouri Valley.

Mills County – Emerson.

Montgomery County - Red Oak

Page County – Clarinda.

Pottawattamie County – Oakland.

Ringgold County – Diagonal.

Taylor County – Blockton.

 

The Red Oak Express

2012 Commerce Drive
P.O. Box 377
Red Oak, IA 51566
Phone: 712-623-2566 Fax: 712-623-2568

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