By Brett Gillin
Ray “Bubba” Sorensen has picked an interesting medium for his tributes to our veterans. Sorensen knew he wanted to give something back to those that give everything for their country, and he decided that using his painting skills would be the best way for him to express his thanks. What makes Sorensen’s tribute unique is his canvas. He doesn’t paint on the side of walls or buildings, and he doesn’t use traditional framed canvases. Instead, Sorensen uses enormous boulders to pay tribute, and they’ve become so popular that he’s getting requests all over Iowa to paint even more.
Dubbed The Freedom Rock, Sorensen’s original mural stands in rural Iowa. The Freedom Rock is a 12 foot high, 56 ton rock that sits near Highway 25 in Iowa. According to Snopes.com, the boulder had been covered with random graffiti for years, until Sorensen decided back in 1999 that he wanted to use that boulder as a canvas to honor veterans.
Sorensen tells reporters that the film Saving Private Ryan inspired him to first paint The Freedom Rock. The then 19 year old decided on Memorial Day of 1999 to take on the project. He told reporters “It was right around Memorial Day, and I was driving by that rock and wondered what it would be like if I actually took the time to go out there and paint it. And so I painted it with the flag-raising at Iwo Jima. I got such a huge response that I kept painting it. I’ve been painting it for the last five years with tributes to veterans on Memorial Day.”
One particularly touching story of the Freedom Rock comes courtesy of Margie Moore, the owner of a nearby motel called the Brass Lantern. She told reporters that the Freedom Rock has, over the years, become so much more than just a popular tourist attraction.
Moore told reporters that the family of a deceased Vietnam Veteran came to visit the rock a few years ago, with the hopes of scattering the veteran’s ashes around the rock. Instead, Sorensen asked them if he could mix the veteran’s ashes with his paint, so that it would be affixed there forever.
Now, Sorensen has been asked to paint similar rocks all throughout Iowa. According to this story on WQAD, Sorensen is currently working on his 24th Rock along the Mississippi River in LeClaire, Iowa. He thinks this particular rock will take around 10 days to complete.
To find out more about The Freedom Rock, and to see more bout Sorensen’s plans to paint a boulder in all 99 Iowa counties, visit the Freedom Rock’s official website.