The Iron Horse Hotel has long been lauded for its industrial chic-meets-Americana decor. But there’s one design element of the hotel that might just be more American than apple pie — the Lobby’s iconic American flag. And the flag, constructed of denim jeans by Milwaukee artist Charles Dwyer, is showing its true colors brighter than ever before.

The flag, which has hung in the lobby for more than a decade, was in need of repair and cleaning. Dwyer immediately stepped in to complete the delicate and intricate process. Once the flag was removed from the wall and laid in the library for repair, it took over a week to complete.

Dwyer vacuumed and used soft rubber conservation sponges to remove dust and reveal the original colors; and days were spent repairing seams and hand-sewing from the back of the flag so the stitchwork wouldn’t be visible. A new application of paint brightened the original palette.

The denim flag evolved from a series of paintings Dwyer created for an exhibit at Café Lulu in Bay View. The raw denim jeans (purchased at Fleet Farm) were sewn together, pressed flat and painted on with oil paint. 

After visiting the artist’s show at Cafe Lulu, The Iron Horse Hotel owner and longtime friend Tim Dixon presented him with an idea: What if Dwyer created the ultimate symbol of Americana for the hotel’s lobby? Dwyer didn’t think twice; he bought 36 pairs of jeans and found a seamstress to sew them industrially — cutting the first pairs in half to create the 13 stripes. It’s all part of the unique storytelling that has set The Iron Horse Hotel apart from other hotels since its opening in 2008.

“You don’t scream your story, you subtly tell it,” says Dixon. “When you look at that flag you begin to realize it’s not just any flag — it’s a flag created out of jeans, American jeans, by a local artist.”

The massive flag took weeks to create, applying thin coats of acrylic paints and then sanding the surface to expose the denim “as if the paint had been worn off from wear,” says Dwyer, allowing for folds and creases to be part of the look.

“The flag’s iconic appeal has to do with the size and materials used to create it,” says Dwyer. “To me, it’s a symbol of freedom and the free-spirited outlook that echoes the ’60s and ’70s and pop art — not a symbol of government or power.” 

The flag is now once again hanging proud in the Lobby — an ever-present symbol of hope, perseverance and the American dream.