Painting freedom

Artist Bubba Sorenson’s Hamilton County rock nears completion in Stratford

— Daily Freeman-Journal photo by Billie Shelton Artist Ray “Bubba” Sorensen works on the details of the Hamilton County Freedom Rock. Sorensen has been in Stratford this week working on the painting.

STRATFORD — Hamilton County’s Freedom Rock will soon be complete. Located on a corner lot in Stratford’s downtown area, the transformation of the very large rock into an original piece of art is nearly finished.

Artist Ray “Bubba” Sorensen II has been in Stratford since last week to paint the rock with patriotic images, including an American flag painted to look like it’s draped over the top of the rock.

“There’s almost always a flag on top of the rock,” Sorensen said. “I love to paint the flag on top.”

With a theme of “Generations of Service in Hamilton County,” the Hamilton County Freedom Rock depicts uniformed male and female service members from a variety of eras.

“There was a Tuskegee airman born in Webster City, so we included that,” said Sorensen as he put finishing details on the picture of a WW II Women’s Air Corps member. “I can’t include every branch of service on every rock, but I hope that every race and gender are represented somewhere on a rock in the state.”

— Daily Freeman-Journal photo by Billie Shelton Ray “Bubba” Sorensen travels the state in this special Freedom Rock pickup and trailer. He’s been working in Stratford for the past week on the Hamilton County Freedom Rock project.

When all the Freedom Rocks are complete, there will be one in every one of Iowa’s 99 counties, all of them original. The Hamilton County rock is number 66. Sorensen said he asks the committee in each community what they want on their rock, and I ask people to trust me,” he says. “I have major control, but I want the committee to be happy.”

Once he starts painting on a rock, Sorensen, 38, works on it steadily till it is completed in seven to ten days. The work is physically and mentally demanding, he says. “It’s hard to dig deep and pull it out, but it happens,” Sorensen notes. “Some days it wears on me. Some days I wonder what I’m doing, and other days I know I’m doing the right thing.” His plan is to work one week on and one week off. He paints 12 to 16 rocks each year, which he says is faster than he anticipated.

“I had three goals when I started this,” the artist states. “I wanted to thank our veterans, to promote Iowa tourism, and to feed my family.” He says that one of the most difficult aspects of his work is being away from his Greenfield home so much. He and his wife have two children who are ages three and six.

His wife handles the business details of painting the rocks. “She’s my lineman and I’m the quarterback,” Sorensen says with a smile, adding that information about the Freedom Rocks is publicized on Facebook and on a Web page, Word of mouth advertising has effectively spread the word about the project, too.

The rock in Stratford, which Sorensen estimates to weigh 25 to 30 tons, rests on a custom-made stand on a corner lot of Shakespeare Avenue that will have a plaza feeling when everything is completed. Special lighted half walls will have names of county veterans. American Legion posts in the county were asked to each sponsor a bench for the plaza area.

Once the 99 Freedom Rocks for the whole state of Iowa are all complete, Sorensen has a dream to paint one in every state. He already completed three rocks in Missouri, one in Wisconsin, and has an order for a Freedom Rock in the state of Washington.

If that seems like a daunting task, Sorensen sounds like he’s up for the challenge, in spite of the long days and the self-discipline he draws on. “We’re lucky to live in a free country. That’s why I do this,” he states as he turns back to his paints and paint brushes.