Painting of Freedom Rock underway outside courthouse

Published 7:31 pm Monday, September 18, 2023

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The boulder placed outside of the Freeborn County Courthouse is officially being transformed into a Freedom Rock this week as painting by its artist is underway.

Artist Ray Bubba Sorensen II of southwest Iowa said he started putting primer on the 28,000-pound boulder on Sunday and began sketching the different scenes on it, and on Monday morning he was painting the beginning stages of an American flag on the rock.

Sorensen is painting under a white tent on the north side of the courthouse, which he said helps keep direct sunlight and moisture off the rock while he is painting and allows it to cure properly.

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The Freedom Rock, when complete, will be the seventh of its kind in the state, Sorensen said. It will honor veterans and fallen military members.

Sorensen started Freedom Rocks in Iowa with a 12-foot-tall boulder near the small town of Menlo, Iowa. In 1999, Sorensen painted a simple “thank you” to veterans on the boulder and has continued to honor veterans by donating his time for new murals on this boulder every May for Memorial Day, drawing in people each year to see what he has created. To expand this message further, Sorensen felt compelled to do more and set out in hopes of every county in Iowa having a Freedom Rock of their own.

He has achieved this goal and has since painted others in Minnesota, Nebraska and Texas, he said.

Sorensen said he is lucky to have found his niche as an artist early on — this year is his 25th year of painting the murals.

“I never thought I’d make mural painting a career,” he said. “I was more of a graphic designer, but people keep asking me to paint murals.”

Before painting each Freedom Rock, he said the committee for each project sends him photos of the rock itself.

Both he and the committee research ideas of what to paint on the rock based on the stories of veterans in the county. He likes to have stories of specific people who have served illustrated on the rock more than general scenes.

Sorensen said painting all of the rocks has deepened his appreciation of veterans, as he has been able to meet and hear about people who have served in every branch of the military.

“I’m continually inspired — every story I hear,” Sorensen said. “A lot of the Medal of Honor citations read like super hero comics. I dive into that history — ordinary men doing extraordinary things and illustrating that.”

On the front of the Freeborn County Freedom Rock will be Chief Warrant Officer Corey Goodnature, an area native who was killed in 2005 when his company’s helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan while attempting to rescue missing U.S. Navy SEALS.

Goodnature was one of several ideas the committee considered during the process. It will have two other flat surfaces with other scenes illustrated.

Sorensen said it typically takes him seven to 10 days to paint each rock. He noted sometimes his paintings change from the original sketches as he dives into the process.

Scott Kallberg, who is part of the group of American Legion Riders who fundraised for the project, said he and the others are excited that everything is coming together.

They continue to fundraise and hope to in the spring have a gazebo or cover installed over the rock to protect it.