Freedom and great art have something in common. Neither one is free, but both are very worthy of acquiring.
Ten years ago, Gene Blazek didn’t have freedom or art on his mind when he unearthed a massive boulder on his property. He was building a waterway, and the rock was in his way. Took him 45 minutes with the power of a dozer, but he got the nearly 45,000 pound rock pushed out of the waterway and into his yard.
It was about 12’ high and 9’ wide, with an impressive flat face to one side of it. A slight fascination with unusual rocks is a thing here in Northeast Iowa. Midwesterners are pretty good at repurposing items, too. What was no good to anyone in a field might be good for something some day.
Blazek owns a construction business. Certainly, design plays a part in his work. But art isn’t his business.
He started thinking about art, though, when fellow Sons of American Legion member, Joe Langreck, began talking about an artist who paints patriotic images on rocks. Ray “Bubba” Sorensen II was committing to painting one Freedom Rock for each of Iowa’s 99 counties.
History books, documentaries and museums all factually inform us of the lessons of history.
Could an artistic rock be worth the time, money and effort?
Art is one medium that can succeed in searing a message into the heart that was only before intellectually grasped.
A visit to a famous World War II battle site helped me to better appreciate how art and history powerfully intersect. Wading knee-deep into the waters off of what was known as Omaha Beach, I turned my eyes toward the beach and to the rising hill behind it. Decades before, American soldiers faced the violence of German gunfire as they stormed these waters.
Standing in the water, I tried to imagine the fury of D-Day. It was difficult to do. Omaha Beach has returned to the peaceful life it knew before the war. Intellectually, I understood the enormity of what happened here but my heart was trying to know more.
Our French tour guide moved us on to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial and its sacred rows—so many rows—of identical white marble headstones.
Then we arrived at the sculpture.
“The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves,” is a 22’ bronze statue of an American soldier. A strong outstretched arm reaches toward the sky. Legs and feet are slightly curved together as if propelling through water. The American soldier came “rising out of the sea” to help liberate France.
The image of “rising out of the sea”—the strength, the bravery, the sacrifice has stayed with me. The sculpture helped my heart to better understand.
History books educate, but art can resonate. One is learned. The other is felt.
Sorensen was eventually commissioned for the Chickasaw County Freedom Rock. The Lawler Legion got busy with a fundraiser to help pay for it, and Blazek knew just where to get the perfect rock. His someday had arrived.
The painting of the rock was recently completed. One side shows the images of seven Chickasaw County individuals who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Four are namesakes of American Legion/VFW posts: Fae Stine, Paul Johann, Ralph Nicholson and Harold Redman. Also honored are Ralph Thompson, Donald Fisher and Lawrence Fisher.
The rock is located along Highway 24 in Lawler and now part of the Lawler Area Veterans Memorial.
Come see the rock, and let their gaze soak through you. Real people who had futures. And hopes and dreams of realizing their potential. Just like any of us.
We owe them. So much.
Then hang on to the feeling of freedom. That’s the worthwhile purpose of art.