Portland’s Flag Turns 13

Happy Portland Flag Day!  (Not yet an official holiday.)

Ted & Mason Kaye, Fred Paltridge, Doug Lynch, and John Hood
Ted & Mason Kaye, Fred Paltridge, Douglas Lynch, and John Hood with the newly-adopted Portland city flag at city hall, 2002.

On 4 September 2002, after lobbying by flag designer Douglas Lynch (1913-2009) and the Portland Flag Association, the Portland City Council adopted ordinance 176874, revising the flag to its current (and originally intended) design.  (For more on the redesign effort, see our History page.)

A stick flag showing the previous fdesign of Portland's flag, in (very limited) use 1970-2002.  A modification of Lynch's original design.
A stick flag showing the previous design of Portland’s flag, in (very limited) use 1970-2002. Lynch never liked this modification of his original design.

Over the course of its short 13 year existence, the revitalized flag has gone from a seldom-seen accoutrement of city government to a widely embraced symbol of the city, people, and culture of Portland.  Its enthusiastic adoption by the Timbers Army, a zealous group of fans supporting the city’s Major League Soccer team, was important in establishing the flag’s visibility and fashionability, as has the more recent decision by Portland Fire & Rescue to fly the flag along with the US flag from every fire station’s flagpole.

The US and Portland flags fly above Portland Fire & Rescue Station 5.  Photo by Scott Mainwaring.
The US and Portland flags fly above Portland Fire & Rescue Station 5. Photo by Scott Mainwaring.

Though crosses are commonly found on flags, Lynch’s design is unique.  It does however have some resemblance to other crossed flags.  As it is offset towards the left (hoist) side of the flag, it resembles a Nordic Cross, as found on the flags of Denmark, Iceland, etc. And as the arms come together to suggest counter-clockwise rotation, it resembles an ancient Celtic motif known as Brigid’s cross.

Brigid's cross, a pre-Christian symbol associated with the Celtic goddess Brigid.
Brigid’s cross, a pre-Christian symbol associated with the Celtic goddess Brigid.

However, Lynch did not intend either of these associations. Here is the official symbolism of the design:

The background shall be green, symbolizing the forests and our green City.  The design includes a four-pointed directional star, formed by the vertical and horizontal intersection of counterchanged light blue stripes, symbolizing our rivers.  The blue stripes are paralleled with yellow stripes, symbolizing agriculture and commerce. The yellow stripes are separated from the green background and the blue river stripes by white lines called fimbriations.

The flag of Portland, Oregon.  Designed by Doug Lynch.
The flag of Portland, Oregon. Designed by Douglas Lynch.

The Portland flag is inspirational in its strong design.  In a recent example, our friends at Vexillology Ireland have launched a campaign, citing the Portland flag as inspiration, to encourage the use of Brigid’s cross on flags.  They have a short video providing an excellent overview on the use of crosses on all sorts of flags.

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Author: SDM

Ethnography * Technology * Design

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