Lunch bag drawings land Minnesota dad in spotlight
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Bryan Dunn's drawings have been featured on blogs by Ellen DeGeneres and Amy Poehler, and his Facebook page has more than 5,000 likes.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - Bryan Dunn’s drawings have been featured on blogs by Ellen DeGeneres and Amy Poehler, and his Facebook page has more than 5,000 likes.
But the Eden Prairie man’s drawings aren’t for his career as a graphic designer and illustrator. Dunn, who calls himself the “Bag Dad,” draws a picture on his son’s brown paper lunch bag every day before school. The work for Rowan, 7, has inspired parents, educators and artists around the world to do a little extra something for their kids to remember.
“It really is part of building that memory for when he’s older - of a parent who just did something,” he said.
The effort began when Rowan went to summer camp before kindergarten. The boy was beginning to understand that because of his dairy allergy, his food
options at lunch were different from those of his friends. The camp counselors asked Dunn to send bag lunches because lunchboxes and Thermoses were too hard to keep track of. Dunn wanted his son to feel confident bringing out his lunch and wanted him to be able to keep track of it, so he began drawing a character on the bag each day.
Dunn, 37, saw the project as a win-win, since he could also experiment with his career skills for a new audience of children.
Dunn buys brown paper bags in bulk, usually in packs of 500, to prepare for every school year. Each night, he spends 15 to 30 minutes sketching “whatever random thought comes to his head,” he said.
The drawings have included an alligator listening to headphones or a kung-fu stegosaurus.
He didn’t think he’d be doing his drawings for long but then his son asked if he could keep bringing lunch bags instead of getting a “shiny” new lunch box, Dunn said.
Rowan was getting plenty of attention, Dunn said, at St. Hubert Catholic School. After awhile, Dunn figured out that his son was trading the bags for new Pokémon cards and other items. Though he disapproved of trading, he gave Rowan permission to give the bags away.
It started a trend of giving bags to friends and teachers who wanted them.
“He’s enjoying learning how to spread joy among his classmates,” said Rowan’s art teacher, Barb Loiselle. She, too, asks for bags, which she started permanently sealing to her wall about a year ago. She now has nine bags displayed.
“Rowan’s dad doing this for him has not just made Rowan’s day, it has made his friends’ day, his teachers’ day and now that they’re on the wall, the bags can make anyone’s day,” Loiselle said.
Around that same time, Dunn’s adult friends asked to see the bags, so he posted them on some social media sites. The first set of bags he posted on Reddit got more than 3 million views within a week.
“I didn’t expect it to go viral,” Dunn said. “There are some times where I’m, like, ‘It’s just a lunch bag.’ ”
Many adults have asked him to market the bags, he said, but he is hesitant to do that.
Kelly Wagner, one of Dunn’s friends, also has a child with a food allergy. She said she doesn’t draw but has experience with marketing and has been trying to persuade Dunn to sell the bags.
“I’m looking at this beautiful thing that’s crafted out of love,” she said, “What about selling it to parents who have less time and more money?”
For now, Dunn said, the bags are made for his son to enjoy, until he no longer wants them.
“I think there will be a time at some point when he’ll tell me he doesn’t want to bring a bag,” Dunn said. “I try to keep what I’m drawing on there on par with what he and his friends are into to try and stretch it out as much as I can.”
But once Rowan loses interest, there’s always the Internet.
“If he wants to be done, then I might turn to the Internet, and ask, ‘Anyone else want some bags?’ ” Dunn joked.
The Pioneer Press is a media partner of Forum News Service.