GREENFIELD, Iowa | For 17 years, artist Ray "Bubba" Sorensen has painted his original Freedom Rock, a 90-boulder just south of Interstate 80 in rural Adair County.
Three years ago, Sorensen branched out and began painting smaller Freedom Rock efforts across Iowa, one per county, in cities like Hawarden, Lake Park, Sac City and Rolfe.
As he approaches the halfway point of his 99-county Iowa tour, Sorensen is expanding yet again, starting a 50-state U.S. Freedom Rock Tour.
"Right now, we're visiting with representatives from Alabama, and there have been a couple of states, Minnesota and Ohio, that have spoken with us previously about Freedom Rock," says Sorensen, 36. "I'd like to book some states so that when we do finish in Iowa, we can transition into doing 50 states."
Sorensen enjoyed a busy 2015 that saw completion of 15 county-level Freedom Rock sites in addition to his original Freedom Rock boulder during May. That site alone near Menlo, Iowa, attracts in excess of 10,000 visitors annually from 50 states and dozens of countries around the world.
The original Freedom Rock, which Sorensen self-funds, each year contains the ashes of several deceased veterans. This year, he said, there were cremains of a half-dozen veterans that he worked into the paint on the original Freedom Rock.
During 2015, Sorensen began his work by painting a rock for Cass County near tiny Lewis, Iowa, during the first week of April. He finished the season in December by completing his 41st county rock at Gladbrook in Tama County.
"Sometime this year, I'll cross the halfway point in our Iowa Freedom Rock Tour," he says. "My wife Maria and I thought this would be a good point to announce our national tour."
The Deb and Jeff Hansen Foundation of Iowa Falls, Iowa, will help sponsor the national effort, with support from Aluma Trailers of Bancroft, Iowa. The project will enable Sorensen to fulfill his primary Freedom Rock goals with a wider audience.
"I always say I have three goals with the Freedom Rock Tours and that is to honor America's veterans, promote tourism by creating one-of-a-kind murals and to provide for my family," he says. Sorensen generally charges $5,000 for Freedom Rocks at county sites in Iowa, one per county.
The Sorensens have two children, daughter Independence, 4, and son Michael, 18 months. The artist always includes a signature of sorts for his family on each rock.
Sorensen said his state-by-state effort will feature a mix of national scenes, state imagery and regional touches.
"There are no super-set rules," he says, "but I have to be inspired. I love painting the American flag, and I would push that as a nod to all U.S. veterans.
"The goal is to make each rock state-specific," he adds. "I may incorporate a state's flag, too. I'd like to promote tourism with it."
If a southern state were to contact and secure Sorensen's services for a Freedom Rock, he could begin work during the cold winter months. For example, work on an Alabama Freedom Rock could commence this week.
Sorensen's 2016 painting season in Iowa begins in Marshalltown at the end of February. Community leaders asked Sorensen if Marshalltown could move ahead in the 2016 slate, an effort to see their Freedom Rock dedicated during a Memorial Day ceremony.