By Martha Keeffe —
Mural artist Ray “Bubba” Michael Sorensen II is not shy about using his art to honor our nation’s veterans. Using large boulders as his canvas throughout his home state of Iowa (the first, original boulder stands 12 feet high and weighs between 60 and 90 tons), Sorensen hand-paints bold, honest portrayals of the men and women who have served our country. “It’s my way of expressing a sincere thank you to our veterans, and I’m working to spread this message beyond Iowa to all 50 states,” says Sorensen.
Inspired by the bravery and sacrifice of the soldiers as depicted in the movie “Saving Private Ryan,” Sorensen, who was studying art and design at Iowa State University, painted his first mural on a large, graffiti-covered rock near the small town of Menlo, Iowa. Though Sorensen painted a simple “Thank you” for his initial message, its sentiment was so appreciated by local veterans that they encouraged him to repaint the rock each year for Memorial Day. Since 1999, Sorensen has continued to donate his time and resources to repaint that particular rock with different tributes commemorating our nation’s veterans—a process that can take up to four weeks to complete. Known as The Freedom Rock, Sorensen’s mural has not only become an annual tourist attraction, but the catalyst for his expanded Freedom Rock Tour.
Doing what has now become his full-time job, Sorensen is in the process of completing The Freedom Rock Tour in each of the 99 counties in Iowa. “At the rate of approximately 10 to 12 Freedom Rocks completed per year, I estimated it would take about eight to 10 years to complete the entire state,” says Sorensen, who has finished painting rocks in 56 counties so far. And since each piece of art is unique in its representation of the armed services, Sorensen hopes the individual Freedom Rocks are significant to the people in the surrounding communities. “The veterans on each rock are usually in some way tied to that county,” he says, explaining that variety in characters and the specific branches in which they served adds interest and historical merit to his murals.
Not one to limit his ambitions to one state, Sorensen has embarked on a nationwide mission to bring The Freedom Rock Tour to all 50 states. Like the Freedom Rocks in Iowa, Sorensen relies on interested organizations to commission his work, provide the location, and secure the boulder that guarantees he has the funding—and a preapproved site—to complete his work. Evidence that Sorensen has set this project in motion can be seen at the parking lot of the Jailhouse Saloon in Centerville, Wisconsin, where Sorensen has completed the first Freedom Rock outside of Iowa. His second completed mural is located in Maryville, Missouri. Where The Freedom Rock Tour takes him next depends on where he’s booked; in the meantime, he’ll honor his commitment to paint Freedom Rocks throughout Iowa and, of course, in Menlo.
To view more artwork from The Freedom Rock Tour or find more information, visit www.thefreedomrock.com.