As a wedding photographer, Darren Wellhoefer understands what it means to make sure moments of love and compassion between two individuals are captured and cherished forever.
Wellhoefer packs his cameras, checks his lighting equipment and makes sure these moments are adequately recorded. When he’s done his job, he usually writes a “thank you” letter to married couples that refer him to friends or family that are planning on getting married.
From the many happy couples Wellhoefer has met, there is one in particular that sparked an inspiration to delve into a side-project job that has quickly become quite popular.
“About nine months ago I shot a Marine’s wedding,” Wellhoefer said. “During the engagement session, he turns to me and says, ‘Hey, when I was in Iraq, I wanted to kill myself.’”
The veteran told him that life wasn’t the same anymore. His service overseas left him with a sense of alienation.
Despite his feeling of disconnection with society, the Marine pointed at the woman he was marrying and said, “This woman saved my life.”
“It was a really emotional engagement session,” Wellhoefer said. “It was a very emotional wedding too. He had friends that didn’t make it back. It was a really tough ordeal.”
After shooting the Marine’s wedding, Wellhoefer decided he wanted to do more than write him a letter.
“I wanted to do something different,” he said. “I’m going to make him a flag.”
The type of flag Wellhoefer wanted to make merged American patriotism with Earth’s natural resources. He wanted to make a wooden flag garnished in a rustic manner.
After a couple of YouTube video tutorials, he got to work.
Wellhoefer met with the Marine once again to give him the flag. With tears in his eyes, the Iraq veteran gladly accepted the gift.
“The guy almost started crying,” he said. “I told him, ‘Dude, don’t thank me. Thank you, for your service.’ I put it back on him, you know. He’s been through a lot.”
Wellhoefer shared this emotional encounter on his Facebook and Instagram profiles. Shortly after, the wooden flag business took off.
His process is simple, yet captivating to those who purchase or are donated a flag. Wellhoefer takes a trip down to a local lumber store and chooses his materials with a calculated eye. He said the wooden planks with natural grooves and patterns are the best when the charring process takes place.
Wellhoefer carefully researches specifications of the American flag. For example, he makes sure that stars are in the right position and that the 13 stripes are wide enough.
“Lots of veterans put this up on their walls. I don’t want them to look at it and think, ‘Oh my God, this is off by a foot,” he said.
Even though most flags appear to be the same, Wellhoefer said different individuals want their flags a certain way. He said law-enforcement members tend to want a weathered, beat-up look for their flags.
After a coat of paint is draped onto the wood, Wellhoefer adds fire into the mix by carefully applying the fire to the wood to give it that rustic earthy look that gives the flag a timeless feel.
The process is creative, and Wellhoefer said he sees an artistic component that comes along with his new endeavor. He said it takes him approximately four hours to complete a flag, and it’s all done in his back yard.
“The flag means a lot to people,” he said. “I don’t want them to put something on the wall that makes it look cheap. I want it to be a power hitter.”
The flags are currently up for sale. Wellhoefer gives discounts to members of the military, police force and fire departments. The price varies from flag to flag, and it depends on the size of the desired flag.
When married couples think back to their wedding day, the work provided by Wellhoefer can transport them back to an unforgettable memory. With this side project Wellhoefer has created, he has found his unique way to give back to veterans and capture their memories of service and patriotism.
“It’s an ultimate thank-you for their service,” Wellhoefer said. “By me spending time making a great flag and something that they hang on their wall, I want them to look back five years from now and be wowed.”