Houston, We Have A Problem

Houston’s flag is a subject of criticism.  For example, in covering how Texas cities fared in the NAVA ranking of 150 U.S. city flags  John Nova Lomax in Texas Monthly wrote:

And after [Dallas’ flag at number 21] there’s a huge drop-off to number 55: Houston, where the flag dates back to 1840, when the city was all of four years old. Just as we don’t allow pre-K kids to get inked up, we should not allow toddler cities to attempt to brand themselves for all eternity.

Although a locomotive is the dominant element here, this represented an invitation more than a reality: no train would churn into Houston until years later. And although trains did play an important role in the development of Houston and continue to be a vital part of the economy today, they are widely loathed for all the traffic snarls they cause.

Despite the criticism there isn’t apparently any serious effort to improve it. But there are several  humorous and artistic  redesign proposals.

Lomax was “partial” to this design from a t-shirt by James Glassman, a.k.a. the Houstorian.
Cort McMurray in the Houston Chronicle proposed this design.

In Houston Has a Flag — We Just Don’t Like It, the staff of Houstonia “asked four of our city’s artists to go nuts and build the banner of their dreams — the wilder, the better”:

‘After realizing he’d “need 10 flags to capture the diversity and expansive cultures in Houston,” Michael Rodriguez, a multimedia designer known for his large-scale, commissioned graffiti works, finally settled on the distinguished downtown skyline, a few escaped Houston Zoo animals, the space shuttle and a trusty taco.’ (One of several different colorizations.)
‘“My design is inspired by the galaxy, as we know NASA is a signature place when visiting Houston,” says Rongrong Devoe, a local fashion illustrator originally from China. “The different constellations represent the rodeo and oil derricks.” In other words, this is the flag you could show off to visitors wondering where all of Houston’s cowboys and astronauts are.’
‘“No reimagining of the Houston flag could be complete without representing our loony weather: hot, cold, wet and sunny all in one day,” says designer Katsola®. She’s also included friendly characters from her well-known Houston-area murals—such as Nadeshiko the squid, who’s hugging the Broken Obelisk outside Rothko Chapel—and, of course, banh mi and pho.’
Folk artist Taft McWhorter offers up what’s best described as a Houston-ized Texas flag. “The Houston skyline morphs into the bayou and our beautiful green space with the path and trees,” he explains. “This piece represents our history, tradition and our growth as a community,” most notably the growth of Buffalo Bayou from neglected waterway to newly minted civic treasure.
Redditor Phib1618 proposed this tribute to Houstonian traffic.

Apple Watch Flag Watchbands

Limited edition watchbands for the Apple Watch have been announced for the Rio Olympics to represent 14 of the countries competing.  Many but not all are based on national flags.  Which means:

Time for a flag quiz! Can you identify the country for each design?

For the answers, see coverage by GQ or 9TO5Mac.

Four Men in a Hot-Tub

Columbia, Missouri’s logo is intended to represent harmonious relations between the city’s government and its citizens:

City employees and citizens exist in an interwoven relationship. As a representation of this cooperative working bond, the distinctive City of Columbia logo depicts people joined together in an unending circle of community service. A solid version of the logo appears on city-owned vehicles, uniforms and correspondence as a reminder of this cooperative goal. [From FOTW research on the city flag]

Original artwork

Alas, in its simplified form used in the actual logo, it looks like four men in a hot-tub.  The city used this logo flag from 1988 until this year, when a flag contest was held to redesign the flag.

City flag, 1998-2016

The contest produced three finalists.

Michael Bauer’s design was inspired by Chicago’s flag. The stars represent Missouri University, Stephens College, and Columbia College.
Nicole Johnston’s design references C for Columbia, and a key sculpture at the city hall.
Jon Sheltmire’s design recolored the logo and placed it on a white cross (for the city’s central location) on a counter-charged field of blue (for rivers, creeks, and lakes) and green (for natural areas).

On 2 May 2016 the City Council chose Sheltmire’s design as the official city flag.

Alicia Troesser, Art Director of the marketing firm Caledon Virtual, offered a “friendly critique”.  In it she points out that using a logo — any logo — is problematic:

What happens if the city decides to update or refresh the logo 10 years from now? Do they redesign the flag?

Of course, not every logo comes with a mnemonic as memorable as “four men in a hot-tub”. For better or worse, it may be associated with Columbia for a long time to come.

(For many other examples of city flags being considered for redesign, see our Municipal Flag Improvement page.)

Republic, Missouri Tries Again

Back in 1991, Republic, Missouri ran a ran a competition to choose a logo to be used on the city seal and the city flag. Marilyn Schexsnayder received $100 for the winning entry, an oval divided into quarters depicting the location of Republic within an outline of Missouri, an outstretched hand, a silhouette of a “traditional family” (mother, father, son, daughter), and the Christian fish symbol, the ichthus. The Missouri state flag was used as the basis for the city flag, with the Missouri seal replaced by the city seal — and the city’s name and marketing slogan written out for good measure.

City flag of Republic, Missouri (1991-1999)
As one might imagine, a city explicitly identifying itself with any one religion would violate the principle of separation of church and state as established in the First Amendment. By February 1998 local objections to the flag became a subject of debate in Board of Aldermen meetings.  Closeted Wiccan and employee of the Republic Monitor (a local weekly paper) Jean Webb attended one of these meetings and was moved to write an editorial opposing the flag — for which she was fired and harassed with hate mail and threatening phone calls. Her children were ostracized, and she had to move her family away to escape the bigotry.

Supported by the ACLU, Webb filed a complaint objecting to the Christian symbolism on the flag, which made it to the US District Court in Webb v. City of Republic.  The case gained national attention, appearing in the New York Times and elsewhere, and galvanizing local support for the fish-festooned flag and against the ACLU.  In 1999 Republic lost the case, and responded by removing the ichthus but otherwise keeping  the rest of the seal’s design intact, leaving a bizarre “this space intentionally left blank” in its civic heraldry.

City flag of Republic, Missouri (1999-present)
This year Republic is considering updating its flag. Unfortunately, as in the case of Provo, Utah, the main concern seems to be leveraging the city’s investment in a new logo (a stylized R) and slogan (“growing together”).  Here are the 11 designs under consideration, according to an April 2016 analysis by Interim City Administrator Jared Keeling.

This is one municipal flag improvement effort that was obviously not inspired by Roman Mars’ exhortation to get text and logos off of America’s city flags.

See also




World Order: Imperialism

Japanese band World Order is, in their words, “a group creating a unique genre of performing arts through its original musical and physical expression”. (The group’s leader, Genki Sudo, has characterized World Order as “a new-world-order-conspiracy-theory parody group”.) Of their 2013 single Imperialism — from their album Have a Nice Day — they say:

The new single and video IMPERIALISM builds on the group’s mission to prompt reflection contemporary society, working styles, global culture, and images of modern Japan. Provocatively shot in Washington D.C. – against backdrops of American sights like the US Capitol building and Union Station. Spontaneous moments from filming are kept as is for the video – WORLD ORDER’s expressive vision.

Sync Music Japan quotes Sudo:

Usually, when I create my art, I keep in mind the following message: ‘If you change yourself, the world will change as well.’ For this video, I wanted to convey the message: ‘If America changes, the world will change as well.’ I hope everyone across the world enjoys the new song. We Are All One!

The US flag plays a prominent role in two scenes, one at the Marine Corps War Memorial’s sculptural representation of Joe Rosenthal’s famous photograph Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima, the other at the Columbus Fountain in front of Union Station.

World Order dances at the Marine Corps War Memorial. The sculpture (and photograph) commemorates the World War II battle of Iwo Jima in which 6,821 Americans and over 17,000 Japanese died in 1945.
The group dances in front of the Columbus Fountain, a 1912 sculpture by Lorado Taft and Daniel Burnham “to the memory of Christopher Columbus whose high faith and indomitable courage gave to mankind a new world”. The three flag poles represent the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. For the video, the middle flag has been inverted, an international symbol of distress.

The video begins and ends with scenes shot at the  George Washington Masonic National Memorial, which will be familiar to anyone who attended the 24th International Congress of Vexillology, held there in 2011.


See also:

Barbara Upton’s Waking Planet World Flag

Following the terrible violence in the news, we could all use some peace, justice, equality, and love.

Portland Flag Association

After the 9/11 attacks, New Age artist Barbara Upton created this flag representing “Peace, Justice, Equality and Love”:

Waking Planet World Flag, © Barbara Upton

She describes the symbolism as follows:

The blue earth, glowing with vitality, is surrounded by colorful figures representing the beauty that is possible when people of different colors, tongues and beliefs come together in mutual respect and support. The rainbow spectrum also stands for the integrated wholeness at the core of every individual in this world flag. We access this inner peace by accepting and loving all aspects of our humanness.

The rising sun symbolizes the new millennium and the unlimited energy we are being given to be our best selves and to live our life’s purpose. The sun also represents our male aspect, which must be balanced with our inner female represented by the moon for inner peace to flourish.

The moon above also…

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Venezuelan Independence Day

Today in 1811 the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela declared independence and adopted Francisco de Miranda‘s tricolor of yellow, blue, and red.  The flag has undergone many changes in its 105 year history, most recently in 2006 when Hugo Chavez added an eighth star for the province of Guayana and changed the horse in the coat of arms to face left (toward the hoist), but the tricolor — now shared with Colombia and Equador — has prevailed.

This year’s Independence Day comes at a very difficult time of economic and political turmoil for Venezuela.  But the celebrations went on.  Here is a sample of what got posted to Instagram under hashtag #5dejulio.

The 4th of July in Google Doodles

How has the American institution Google observed the holiday?  Here are some of its more vexillographic “doodles“:

2010 (& Rube Goldberg’s birthday)

A Flag for the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah

Where the Wishkah River flows into the Chehalis, just before it in turn flows into Grays Harbor in coastal Washington lies the small city of Aberdeen, best known as the birthplace and home of the lead singer of Nirvana, Kurt Cobain (1967-1994).  Founded in 1884 by Samuel Benn, up until a few days ago it has never had a city flag.

“Aberdeen, WA: The Muddy Banks Of The Wishkah”.  Photo by R. Rhodes, from city-data.com.

Following a year-long effort by Aberdeen resident and flag enthusiast John Barclay, on 29 June 2016 the city council voted nearly unanimously to adopt his flag design.  (Radio station KBKW noted the objection of councilwoman Andrews, “who said the design reminded her of Alvin and the Chipmunks”.) The flag was presented to the council by Barclay and by Brian Little, President of the Aberdeen Revitalization Movement, who had strongly endorsed the flag in a written statement that included:

Stemming in part from an ongoing community conversation regarding finding meaningful opportunities to express civic pride Mr. Barclay on June 24, 2015 first approached Council to propose the creation and adoption of a city flag. At that first meeting he offered that: “Every great city deserves a great city flag”. The idea was met with enthusiasm and, encouraged by the Council’s response, [he] has since championed the idea and enlisted other likeminded citizens and together they have worked to bring forward a suitable City Flag for Council’s consideration.

[…] Attached is a proposed Resolution together with a suitable design crafted in accordance with the 5 basic principles of good flag design as presented by the North American Vexillological Association.

John Barclay with his flag for Aberdeen. Photo from Facebook.

The description of the flag reads:

A canton comprised of a diagonal gold stroke extending from the upper hoist corner towards the fly and terminating just short of the botton of the blue field, and a thinner horizontal gold stroke extending from the lower middle hoist towards the fly and intersecting with the diagonal gold stroke.

The gold canton thus described being symbolic of the City of Aberdeen, Washington situated at the confluence of the Chehalis and Wishkah Rivers, and the blue field symbolic of the Harbor and the Pacific Ocean beyond. Together the symbolism represents Founder Sam Benn’s deeply held dream of “someday building a great city at the confluence of the Chehalis and Wishkah Rivers.” His dream is not just our city’s legacy but also our vision purpose. Building a great city!

So officially that’s not half of a capital A for Aberdeen decorating the blue field.  But in the flag specification it reads “Font: Segoi UI Bold” — a curious annotation indeed if the design includes nothing textual.  In his remarks to the Council Barclay seemed to indicate that the resemblance to text is intentional:

There’s a blue background, and that is not a letter, it’s not even half of a letter – although it does look like one, but that starts the conversation. […] The blue on the bottom represents the harbor, that leads out to the ocean, that’s why the leg isn’t attached to the bottom. The diagonal swatch represents the Chehalis River, the horizontal slash represents the Wishkah and this little part in here [gesturing at where the two met] represents where Sam Benn stepped out on the conflux to build a great city.

Flag Designer John Barclay (left) and Aberdeen Mayor Erik Larson with the Aberdonian flag.  (From KXRO.) 

According to a report by radio station KXRO, Barclay was inspired (like so many others) by Roman Mars’ 2015 TED Talk featuring the PFA’s Ted Kaye on municipal flag design.

New Flags for Australia’s States?

by Max Liberman, Vexilloid Tabloid #58

In 2001, Australian vexillographer Brendan Jones produced a series of intriguing proposals for new Australian state flags. The designs follow the pattern established by the flags of the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory: the southern cross from the national flag in a panel at the hoist, and an emblem representative of the state in the fly.

For New South Wales, the hoist is dark blue and the fly sky blue (the state color), bearing a red waratah (the state flower).  Jones notes that the waratah “is also of significance to many local Aboriginal peoples and hence serves as an important symbol of Aboriginal recognition and reconciliation”.

The proposal for Victoria is in dark blue and white. In the fly, an eight-pointed star, taken from the historic Eureka flag of 1854, is counterchanged and combined with an inverted triangle to form the shape of the state’s initial “V”.

For Queensland, the hoist again is dark blue; the gold fly (which represents the state’s sunshine and golden beaches) is charged with a stylized Cooktown orchid (the state’s floral emblem) in maroon, the state color. The orchid’s six petals represent Queensland as the sixth and last of Australia’s states to have been established as a British colony.

South Australia’s heraldic colors of blue, gold, and red all appear in its proposed flag. The blue hoist represents the Southern Ocean and the red fly the desert of the Outback; a narrow gold fimbriation separates the two and the fly is charged with the piping shrike from the existing state flag and coat of arms.

The design for Western Australia uses the state’s heraldic and sporting colors of black (hoist) and gold (fly); the gold also represents the state’s mineral wealth and expansive desert. The fly bears the state emblem, the black swan, which appears in the current flag and badge and evokes the state’s former name, the Swan River Colony.

For Tasmania, both the state’s unofficial sporting color (green) and its heraldic colors (red and white) are used.  The hoist is red and the fly white, charged with a map of the state in green; the green also symbolizes Tasmania’s natural heritage.

On the whole, the proposed designs are clear and distinctive, and the unifying pattern of the hoist panel with the southern cross makes them unmistakably Australian. All of them would be a considerable improvement over the British colonial ensigns currently serving as state flags. But it might also be felt that the use of the NT/ACT model inappropriately blurs the constitutional distinction between Australia’s states and territories, and that for the states’ flags to adhere to a uniform template does not serve to represent their individual identities and their status as sovereign entities within the Australian federation.

Jones’s website featuring the designs can be found at http://bc.id.au/flags/.