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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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Author: SDM

Ethnography * Technology * Design

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