Tuesday is Flag Day, but for U.S. Army veteran Ryan Marler, of O’Fallon, just about every day is flag day.
Working in his dad Tony’s garage, the 32-year-old creates unique American flag wall hangings made of painted and charred wood slats. He made the first one for himself in April.
“On Etsy, they’re called WarriorFlags (etsy.com/shop/warriorflags),” he said Monday as he arranged some of his work on a table.
“He and I bounced ideas off each other,” said Tony of how Ryan could create the image of the flag on wood and then made it look weathered.
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But what really has taken off is adding a version with a cabinet behind the flag. Ryan calls it a concealment flag case. It has two hidden storage areas, one rectangular — the length of the flag — and the other square, behind the stars. Buyers have been using them to store a short rifle or shotgun. Inside the felt-lined square compartment, magnets can hold handguns and ammunition.
We were looking for a new piece of artwork and thought it was a really unique.
Lisa Burrow, of O’Fallon, on buying a Warrior Flag
Ryan posted Facebook photos and a video of his work back in April. Thousands of hits later, he’s trying to keep up with orders. So far, he has sold 30 and he has 10 on back order.
“I started making them for friends, a couple of close Army buddies,” he said, but then interest started coming in from “friends of friends of friends.” He created the Etsy shop to sell his work. Prices range from $150 for a wall hanging to $240 for a concealment flag case (weight 35 pounds).
Versions with cases that he had seen elsewhere were smaller and more expensive.
“I saw the burnt ones online somewhere ... but they were as much as $1,000,” he said. His measure 4 feet in width and are 26 inches tall. The cabinet is 4 inches deep.
“My first response when orders started coming in was, ‘I need to buy a new saw! I need more wood!’”
He moved his work to his dad’s garage after his wife Laura gave birth May 29 to their first child, Benjamin Ryan. They’ve been married 11 years.
Running the saw to cut wood “can get a little noisy,” he said grinning as Grandpa Tony showed off photos of his new grandson.
The side business and being a new dad have made Ryan’s life a bit busier.
He grew up in O’Fallon and served four years in the U.S. Army, spending 13 months as a scout with a sniper platoon in Iraq in 2004 and 2005 with the 25th Infantry Division. For the past eight years, he has worked full-time in internet technology with Connectria in Creve Coeur, Mo. He’s also studying for a bachelor’s degree in computer management information systems at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
He admits to diverse abilities: “Computer work is a far cry from infantryman, but I’ve always liked wood, too.”
Stacked on a table in the garage, piles of 13 measured and cut pine boards, one each for a stripe on the flag, sat ready. Ryan uses a pocket-hole drill and screws to hide how the stripes are held solidly together. He chars the wood with a propane torch and does touch-ups with a smaller butane one.
A metal stencil with 50 stars is laid on a separate square pine board and painted. Color schemes can include painted red or black stripes alternating with charred wood in between, as well as ones with 12 charred stripes and a single red one (for fallen firefighters) or a blue one (for law enforcement).
Ben and Lisa Burrow, of O’Fallon, bought a flag with the single red stripe. It hangs over their fireplace. Ben has been a firefighter in Webster Groves, Mo., since 2010.
“We were looking for a new piece of artwork and thought it was a really unique,” she said. “It is super-personal to us; it’s a symbol of respect. We get a lot of compliments about it.”
On the concealment flag case, the long compartment has a drop-down door while the square one needs just a touch for the hatch to open. Ryan will add a hidden magnetic lock upon request.
All his orders are custom and he takes some requests, such as a local woman who wanted stakes on the bottom of her flag, plus weather-proofing, so she could use it to hide a big green utility box on her front lawn.
And, if you don’t want to store guns in the cabinet, he can add a shelf inside and turn it into a mini bar.
Since the birth of his son, he’s been toying with an official name for his business.
“I thought maybe Flag Dad,” Ryan said, grinning. That may have to wait a bit.
“The orders just keep coming in.”
At a glance
- What: WarriorFlags by Ryan Marler
- Cost: $150 for a flag wall hanging and $240 for a concealment flag case (plus shipping)
- Size: 4 feet wide, 2 feet tall. The concealment flag case is 4 inches deep.
- How to purchase: Order through etsy.com/shop/warriorflags or call Ryan at 618-799-2237 or email email@example.com