For artist Scott LoBaido, the American flag isn’t only a symbol of patriotism; it’s a work of art. Scott paints the stars and stripes literally everywhere he goes.
In 2006, the New York artist painted an American flag on a rooftop in all 50 states. LoBaido even completed the world’s largest flag in Houston, Texas on a metal roof in 107-degree heat.
Now he is finishing up his second flag tour across the country, where he is refurbishing and replacing many of his flags damaged by natural disasters and everyday wear and tear.
This is a feat most would find miraculous and a bit crazy the first time - let alone a second time. However, LoBaido will tell you he paints flags because they represent freedom and send the message that “we will pick ourselves up.”
With the 10th anniversary of 9/11 fast approaching, it’s a message that couldn’t be more needed. LoBaido, who is a native New Yorker, saw the effects of 9/11 first hand when his community of Staten Island lost more than 270 people. He hopes part of his flag tour will help people to never forget that tragic day.
“What I did see was this temporary patriotism that happened after 9/11 and it was beautiful, so I think it’s important that every day should be like that," said LoBaido.
Although 9/11 stays fresh in his mind, you won’t see World Trade Centers crumbling or people running for their lives in any of the flags he paints on tour. LoBaido believes one of the most important things in his works is trying to convey 9/11 subtlety.
One of LoBaido's most memorable flags was painted shortly after 9/11 on the doors of Engine 160, Rescue Co. 5 in Staten Island. LoBaido knew aside from a basic flag, he wanted people to remember the 11 men who gave their lives that day.
“There are two doors so each had a very subtle tower on the bottom, and I painted 11 pairs of boots in tribute to each of the firefighters lost.”
9/11 certainly plays a role in LoBaido’s flag tours, but the idea to go cross-country painting flags came from his experience while volunteering in Gulfport, Mississippi during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He knew the city needed something to bring them together, so he found an abandoned home and began painting a flag on a makeshift tarpaper roof. LoBaido said it could be seen by rescue crews overhead and people salvaging their belongings on the ground.
“I said I just got to paint a flag somewhere for just a little unity aspect, in other words we’ll get through this as bad as it is.”
Spreading messages of unity like this all over became his goal on these tours, and LoBaido said money wouldn’t hold his efforts back.
“People ask me, 'How do you make money off of this?' and I say I get a million dollars when that Vietnam veteran walks away feeling good - that’s my paycheck.”
Since LoBaido does not make a profit from his works, he lives cross-country in a tent. All he asks for is money for the paint and supplies. Along the tour, LoBaido had to replace 16-20 flags while facing extreme weather conditions and car troubles, but there is a fight in him to always finish his route -- no matter what.
“I say when I am sick and when it's freezing cold or when it’s a 104 degrees on the roof and I am having a heat stroke I won’t stop because there are men and women right now in worse weather with 60 pounds of gear on.”
LoBaido’s flag tours are also a way for him to give back to the men and women serving our country by painting flags for their families and for veterans. In Lewiston, Maine, LoBaido painted a flag for a community that had lost two men in Iraq. To pay the soldiers special tribute, he included their initials in his rooftop flag. A wife of one of the soldiers was so moved by LoBaido’s work that she sent him her husband’s military uniform and the medals and ribbons he received while serving.
LoBaido began to choke up while telling me the story and couldn’t describe what this gesture meant to him.
LoBaido says all the challenges he faced on this tour were worth it, and now that his tour wrapped he’s looking forward to giving back on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. On September 10th from 1:00pm-3:00pm ET, LoBaido will be signing 9/11 Tribute or Flags Across America posters at the Staten Island campus of Saint John's University.
LoBaido is giving all the proceeds from the signing to the "9/11 Hearts and Hands Project," which is dedicated to finding a permanent location for a large quilt that will be on display at the school. The "United in Memory 9/11 Victims Memorial Quilt" is made up of patches designed by people from around the world in honor of different 9/11 victims. LoBaido recommends picking up a poster and viewing the quilt as a way of paying respect and never forgetting those we have lost.