Monday, May 17, 2010

His hand-sewn flags are labor of love, tribute

Robert Banks does things the old-fashioned way.

Thousands of stitches are made by nimble fingers. Stars are hand-painted. Silk and wool bunting are used rather than nylon.

As for Internet sales? Sorry, no.

Making Civil War-era flags is truly a labor of love and tribute for the 60-year-old Clermont, Ga., resident who is an elevator mechanic by day.

Banks posted several of his flags Saturday morning before a memorial service at the Confederate Cemetery in Resaca, Ga. Participants in an annual re-enactment just up the road took part in the service and admired his impressive handiwork. Some of his flags take 80 hours to make.

“I am doing this to honor them,” the former re-enactor said as he worked among the graves of fallen soldiers.

An ancestor fought for the 32nd Georgia Infantry from Upson County.

Banks got interested six years ago after seeing the impressive Civil War flag collection at the Georgia Capitol. “It inspired me,” he says of the collection, which includes bloodied banners.

Since then, he has hand-sewn and painted silk, cotton and wool bunting flags. He makes both Union and Confederate flags.

“Silk was plentiful during the war,” Banks says. He holds up a Confederate flag that was pink rather than red because the color was available from England.

He eschews sewing machines, saying the results are crude. He either paints or embroiders stars.

It all depends on what was done nearly 150 years ago.

“I don’t ever try to age a flag,” Banks says.

Sunlight and humidity take their toll. “Wool really holds us. Silk is tough to work with. It wants to unravel.”

There are research resources. Banks looks at photos on the Internet and books and sees other flags at museums.

“The challenge is taking a photo and reducing it to millimeter scale.”

Among the reproduction flags he displayed at Resaca were the Confederate Army of Kentucky, Gen. William Hardees’, a Missouri battle flag and an 1840 Georgia banner. He showed me large Federal flags, including the 37th Regiment Irish Rifles of New York Volunteers and the 9th Connecticut, which were not displayed Saturday.

Two of his gorgeous works are at a Ringgold, Ga., museum. This week he is traveling to Fort McAllister Historic Park near Savannah to donate a 6 ½-foot by 10-foot garrison flag.

Banks also sells his flags, taking occasional orders from around the South. He recently produced a 34th Alabama flag. His “Fields of Honor” business flag advertises Confederate, Union, national, battle and regimental colors.

Works that take about 40 hours to make may go for between $450 and $700. The large Union flags with eagles, ribbons and tassels can take 80 hours to hand-make. They typically sell for between $1,500 and $2,000.

Banks sews all the time.

“I don’t this to make money,” he says. “I make them for me.”

Robert Banks can be contacted at 678-617-1850 or

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1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your skilled craftsmanship, and preserving my culture, The South.