Sorensen completes Freedom Rock mural

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The Clayton County Freedom Rock mural painting and anti-vandalism sealant is finished. A dedication ceremony will be held at a later date when the remainder of the project is complete. The Freedom Rock is located on the peninsula of Limbeck Pond along highway 52 in Guttenberg. (Press photos by Caroline Rosacker)

By Caroline Rosacker

An area veteran and a patriotic artist first came in contact with one another two years ago.

In the fall of 2015, area veteran Stan Blair of Guttenberg approached mural artist Ray "Bubba" Sorensen inquiring about the placement of a Freedom Rock® in Clayton County. 

On Nov. 21, 2018, the Freedom Rock Committee, comprised of area veterans Dick Eilers, Jim Egl-seder, Carson Palmer, Bob Moser, Nancy McClellan and treasurer Wendy Kuhse, set Clayton County's blank Freedom Rock on the peninsula at Limbeck Pond (commonly known as Horseshoe Pond) along highway 52 in Guttenberg. Sorensen arrived in Guttenberg the last week in July to begin work on the project. 

Sorensen resides in Greenfield with his wife and business partner, Maria, and their two children — seven-year-old Independence "Indie" and her five-year-old brother, Michael. He was inspired to paint the first Freedom Rock® after seeing the movie Saving Private Ryan in 1999. He explained, "In the mid-sixties a gigantic rock was dug out of a local quarry near Menlo. Quarry workers tried a couple of different ways to break the boulder apart using dynamite and a crane, but the dynamite didn't work, and they broke the crane during the process." He continued, "As the story goes – they eventually rounded up five D-8 Caterpillar tractors and rolled the boulder, with three pulling and two pushing, to its current location along Iowa Highway 25 near Menlo. The rock throughout the years has been a canvas for a vast array of graffiti – some of it good – some of it bad." 

Sorensen was enrolled in college at Iowa State studying art and graphic design, when he took on the project of painting a patriotic mural on the 12-foot tall boulder. Each year in May the artist returns to the original Freedom Rock and paints a new mural. "I change the mural each year to honor the rock's historical ever-changing canvas," he noted. 

In addition to working as a mural painter, Sorensen was recently elected as an Iowa legislator. He took office in January 2018 and works for House District 20 at the State Capitol. He recalled, "I was painting a mural in Lake Mills High School when former District Representative Clel Baudler called me and asked what I was doing. I told him I was painting a mural. He replied, 'No you're not— you're running for office.'" 

A considerable amount of research goes into each Freedom Rock design. "I take many things into consideration when I design each piece. The community's military history is at the top of the list, followed by commonalities prevalent to the area," he said. 

Each Freedom Rock mural contains an American flag. Sorensen explained, "I paint an American flag on each rock. The position of the flag changes from each rendering to the next, but I always place the Union blue area of the flag at the highest point of each rock."

Sorensen presented his vision to the local Freedom Rock Committee, and together they finalized the design for the commissioned piece. 

Sorensen initially sketches in the chosen design and then fills it in using primer. He then adds the color blocks and fills in the details during the final stages of the project. The artist uses proven, weather- and fade-resistant paint, and a final anti-vandalism sealant is applied for additional protection. Sorensen typically completes each project in about 7-10 days. 

The Freedom Rock contains images of Samuel Merill, a McGregor resident who was Iowa's seventh governor, and who also served in the Union Army during the American Civil War; the golden dome of the state capitol; an eagle in flight holding a banner in its mouth inscribed with the Iowa motto; the Iowa flag with the words "For those who gave all" on the eagle's banner, and a military person humbly resting on bended knee.  "My vision is one piece of a 99-piece puzzle," he shared. 

An unveiling and dedication ceremony will be held at a later date when the remainder of the project is complete. Additional information about Sorensen and the Freedom Rock project can be found at https://www.thefreedomrock.com.

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