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Texas USA

Flag ’Em Down

From belt buckles to a hot air balloon, photographer captures Texans showing off their Lone Star pride

Photographer E. Joe Deering shoots the Texas flag.

Mind you, not any old Texas flag. No, those don’t do for Deering. Nothing against the store-bought flag (most likely made in China) that your neighbor runs up his flagpole, but those do not interest this former big-city newspaper photographer who now lives near Kerrville.

Deering’s standards include one-of-a-kind versions of the Lone Star’s red, white and blue banner, ones dreamed up by Texans, like the homey state flag painted on the Clarendon Steakhouse, or a custom-painted pickup truck, or on the roof of a barn in the Piney Woods. These, Deering does.

Lone Star flags on belt buckles, jogging shorts, boots, even bathtubs? Yep, you can bet Deering has also captured these with his camera as part of what he calls his “flagtography” project. Deering has gotten so good at tracking down and capturing all the ways Texans show off the Lone Star flag that you could call him our Official State Flagtographer.

It might seem an odd specialty for this native of Kalamazoo, Michigan, but Deering said he has long been impressed by the pride Texans show in their state.

“It’s just because they like being in Texas and being a Texan,” the 6-foot-2-inch, bespectacled photographer said of why so many people paint the Lone Star flag. “It’s that Texas pride.”

While he may not be a native Texan, the 67-year-old Deering sure acts a lot like one. He retired in 2005 from the Houston Chronicle and now lives in a house on about 10 acres in the Hill Country, a place where red, white and blue paint has not been in short supply. He has painted the Lone Star flag on his propane tank, back gate, mailbox and on another old mailbox that he converted into a birdhouse and stuck atop a 12-foot pole. “Actually it’s a duplex,” said Deering, chuckling. He put in a dividing wall to accommodate two families of birds.

Deering started his flag project in early 2002 when he was on an assignment and noticed the Lone Star flag painted on a building in Cisco. As he was walking around the small North Central Texas town, a 1950s Chevy pickup passed with a flag painted on its side. Then, en route to Lubbock for another gig, he noticed the flag painted on a barn roof. After that, he started snapping the colorful images wherever he went and spent hours talking to folk artists who honor our state’s flag in all its glory.

He found they all have their own stories. There’s Don Jones, a retired business manager at the Hamilton Independent School District, who spent a three-day Labor Day weekend to fulfill his dream of painting a Texas flag on his 7,000-gallon water tank on his land near Lanham. “All my adult life I’ve flown the Texas flag,” Jones said. “You could say I’ve got the passion of Texas.”

Musician Doug Moreland of Manchaca painstakingly restored a 1972 Cadillac convertible with the Lone Star flag painted on and then affixed genuine 8-foot-wide longhorns just above the grill.

Balloonist Bruce Lavorgna of Austin contracted with a company in England to custom-make his Lone Star hot air balloon.

Over the years, Deering has captured Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson’s Texas flag necktie, the squad cars of the Palmer Police Department when they were painted with the Lone Star flag, and the custom-built solid silver Lone Star spurs worn by rancher Dana Nelson of Hempstead.

In 2005, the folks at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station were so impressed that they arranged an exhibit of 137 of Deering’s photos, each adorned with one-of-a-kind frames Deering made using scrap lumber and doodads in his woodshop. The exhibit is now part of the museum’s permanent collection. This got the attention of the editors of Texas A&M University Press, who in 2009 published a coffee table book, Lovin’ that Lone Star Flag, to showcase Deering’s photos.

With Texas celebrating the 175th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence from Mexico, we thought nothing could be finer than a shout-out to Deering and a salute to all Texans who proudly show off their folk flag creations.

By the way, Deering can still be found on the trail. While he said it is doubtful that he will create another flag book (though he isn’t ruling it out), he continues to shoot flag photos, some of which may be added to the collection at the presidential library.

One dreary afternoon in an Austin school parking lot, as rain began to fall, Deering snapped photos of Halle Gaines, 16, behind the wheel of her first car: a 1976 Lone Star flag-painted Volkswagen Beetle. Also on hand was Halle’s mother, Susan, and the balloonist, Lavorgna, who had given Deering the tip.

Later, drying off and drinking hibiscus tea at Threadgill’s restaurant in Austin, Deering explained that Lavorgna is one of many “spotters” who alert him when they see a creation that merits a look. With all the homemade Lone Stars all over the state, it looks like Deering won’t be selling off his camera equipment anytime soon.

Charles Boisseau is a freelance writer in Austin and former associate editor of Texas Co-op Power.