MISSOULA — A custom-furniture carpenter, Bear Thomas ends a typical workday with a pile of scrap material. He could toss the odds and ends, but instead, he uses them to pay tribute to the country he loves.
“My friends always joke around and they say ‘Bear bleeds red, white and blue,” said the Missoula woodworker.
The owner of Whitedog Woodshop, Bear is known for the beautiful furniture he custom makes, but after hours, the bar tops and cabinets are set aside.
His workshop on Whippoorwill Drive in Missoula becomes an easel for hand-carved American flags.
Picking up his drawknife, he demonstrates the careful back-and-forth of carving as he begins a new flag. “Just like this, just a little bit at a time,” he said.
It was 18 months ago when Bear’s wheels began to turn and the idea to create an American flag came to life.
Considering the turmoil of 2021 and a workshop full of scrap material, making an American flag seemed like a pretty good idea.
“With all the trouble in politics and the issues the police departments were having across the country, I just felt it appropriate to show our support to the police department,” said Bear. “I donated my first one to the Missoula Police Department.”
Like a flag in the sky, gratitude rippled through the police department when Bear presented the wooden flag to the officers.
“Oh gosh, I don't, I don't know if there was a dry eye in the building, to be honest with you.”
Since then, he’s carved nearly 30 flags. The meaning behind them is what keeps him carving.
“Freedom. Yeah, freedom. There's a lot of sacrifice behind it.”
The work is tedious, taking 40 to 60 hours to make each flag. When he finally gives them away, he doesn’t ask for a cent in return.
This is time spent away from paying projects, but it’s time that he’s free to do what he loves — and for that, he’s grateful.
As Veterans Day approaches, Bear thinks of those who have served. His next flag will be given to the new Veterans Affairs hospital that's opening in Missoula this winter.
“The vets mean a lot to me for what they've sacrificed for this country and our freedom,” he told MTN News. “You know, the frontline workers, the police, the active military...when I get a flag made I try to find a good cause and donate it.”