Please note that due to (once again) Portland’s complete inability to deal with significant snowfall, our January meeting will not take place tonight. It has been rescheduled for two weeks from today, Thursday, January 26 (same place, same time).
In the meantime, you could send Portland a few bucks to invest in snow removal equipment!
It’s that time of year when vexillologists turn their attention to the flag of a small Indian Ocean island owned by Australia: the Island of Christmas!
It was named by English Captain William Mynors on Christmas Day, 1643, from his East India Company ship the Royal Mary. (This is apparently all this is known about William Mynors.)
The island was uninhabited until the late 19th century, entirely flagless until 1986, and officially flagless until 2002. The flag was designed by a certain Tony Couch, of Sydney, formerly of Christmas Island, who won $100 in a flag contest.
Not a bad design, though the map of the island on a gold disk in the center is a bit superfluous. And Couch should have shared his prize money with Susan (Karike) Huhume, designer of the (earlier) PNG flag, for the general idea.
New Hampshire Public Radio reports that city-council supported efforts to find a new flag for the city — the existing monstrosity is pictured above — have run into a roadblock in the form of councilmember Brenda Baer and her bad-design-blind colleagues:
“Why are we changing it, what is so wrong with our present flag?” asked Brenda Baer, who represents Laconia’s Ward 4. She voted against selecting a new design.
“There wasn’t one submission that had anything or said anything about Laconia, whatsoever,” Baer said. “There was no relationship in any of them, to the city.”
Baer says she doesn’t buy the idea that Laconia would somehow suddenly rally together under a new flag.
Vexillonaire Bree Henderson is vowing to continue pushing for action. The redesign process has gotten as far as six finalists (see below) — so near, but so far.
Roundup is a regular feature of the Vexilloid Tabloid newsletter, collecting various flag-related items of note.
Portland hosted the trial of the armed occupiers of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southeaster Oregon. In Chapman Square, in front of the US District Courthouse, supporters maintained a vigil, including this boy hoisting the national flag as a symbol of distress. In a surprise verdict, the defendants were acquitted.
Our Croatian colleague, Lt. Col. Željko Heimer, has turned his PhD dissertation into a book, with editorial help from Ted Kaye. It’s available on demand at Lulu.com.
How to represent surfer-pirates on a flag? Catlin Gabel School’s annual 8th-grade Gilbert & Sullivan operetta—this year Pirates of Penzance—replaced pirates and policemen with surfers and lifeguards, using a flag designed in a group effort led by Danny Lezak.
Columbia, the capital city of South Carolina, could really use a change of topic when it comes to flags.
As the focal point for display of the Confederate Battle Flag in the South, the city hosted a turning point in the fractious debate, with the removal of the flag from the Confederate Monument in front of the capitol, in July 2015, by order of Governor Nikki Haley.
Calls for the flag’s removal had intensified since the murder of nine people in the Charleston church shooting the month before.
The flag had flown from a pole next to the monument, surrounded by a concrete deck and a small fence. Within a day of the decision to remove it, all of that was gone and sod was being laid in its place.
The most visible event associated with the flag was its lowering two weeks before as an act of civil disobedience by a young African-American filmmaker, Brittany Ann “Bree” Newsome, whose pole-climb went viral and won praise from Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
I visited Columbia in 2009 in conjunction with NAVA 43 (Charleston), and then again this year. That provided an opportunity to see the monument before (with flag) and after (without flag).
The Columbia Design League and the local arts-commission equivalent had invited me in September to speak about flag design and how the city flag might be improved.
Columbia’s flag has served the city for more than a century, but it represents a bygone era (corn and cotton) with an outdated, ineffective design (a seal on a bedsheet).
Local leaders have begun an effort to consider updating the flag as part of reclaiming civic pride and improving the branding of the city. A large group came together at the Columbia Museum of Art for a workshop to learn about flag design and discuss ideas for change.
Perhaps this new flag topic will bring positive attention to Columbia. It may well show how flags are far more than designs on bits of cloth, and can serve a community as a unifying symbol.
Columbia’s media relations staff show the flag in the city council chambers. Adopted in 1912, it features the city seal and stalks of corn and cotton.
A light-blue version of the Columbia city flag flies below the state and national flags outside City Hall.
The South Carolina State House and Confederate Monument, 2009: Flagpole and fencing in place.
The South Carolina State House and Confederate Monument, 2016: Flagpole and fencing removed.
In our November meeting, hosted by Fred Paltridge and his fiancée Willow Washburn in their new home, 11 PFA members enjoyed a lively 3+ hour evening of flags. In the usual role of the host, Fred moderated the discussion.
Fred compared the red and white checks of arms of the royal families of Croatia (past) and Monaco.
Ted Kaye passed around newspaper clippings with flags as photo subjects, Željko Heimer’s new book which he’d edited, and Portland city flag pins, recently arrived from the vendor.
He also posed the most recent flag quiz to the members, described a visit to Columbia, S.C., and shared some full-size flags from his collection, including those of the Saami nation, Ukraine (a gift from the Antarctic base commander), Western Ukraine (a gift from business colleagues), and a hospitality flag used by European hotels (comprising 16 country flags).
David Koski anticipated the upcoming “Civil War” football game between the University of Oregon (Ducks) and Oregon State University (Beavers), wondering how to create a “flag for ambivalent people” who support both or neither side—perhaps using a platypus? He also posed a question for Roman Mars: does he have a personal flag?
John Schilke reflected on his recent office cleaning, where he mostly just moved items around and gave away a few things…but kept his flag books!
William Gifford brought a 1976 bicentennial flag set with 48 historic flags and an explanatory booklet, marketed by Von’s and created by the Golden State Display Mfg. Co. in N. Hollywood. He’d bought it recently from an antique shop after it was left out in the rain.
Michael Orelove described how he gave away his burgee collection to the local Sea Scouts.
Ken Dale described the rededication of the memorial to Larry Dahl, a Medal of Honor winner from Clackamas County, just before Veterans Day, and related the experiences of his aunt, a nurse during WW2.
Joyce Gifford related how when the San Francisco Zoo needed 5,000 4”x6” California state flags for the opening of its bear exhibit on extremely short notice, the Giffords’ Chinese source ran its factory day and night for two days to complete the order on time.
Jessie Spillers presented his recent learnings about the history and flags of Newfoundland, and described the most recent Big Bang Theory “Fun with Flags” episode.
David Ferriday showed some recent acquisitions, including a folk art U.S. flag with 8 stars and 9 stripes, a Betsy Ross House print which he gave to Fred & Willow, and an Irish city flag.
Erick Watkins, inspired by the flag of Cyprus, jokingly proposed a new flag for Portland, with its map silhouette and two “green stags”.
I first met Whitney over 35 years ago—in Madrid at the 11th International Congress of Vexillology. On the first day, when the vexillologists visited the Spanish Naval Museum, I observed a mustachioed figure pointing out an error in a replica flag. Someone identified him to me as Dr. Smith.
On my next trip to the Boston area I visited the Flag Research Center. That journey, according to Jim Ferrigan, allowed me to append “vex” to my name, much like a Muslim uses “haj” after making the pilgrimage to Mecca. After the full and engaging tour of the FRC, Whitney described its library as the largest collection of flag books in the world, asking me to guess where the second-largest was. His answer? “In the basement—all my duplicates!”
How did I become “advisory editor” of the Flag Bulletin? While organizing Flag Congress/San Francisco in 1987, I negotiated the publication of the congress proceedings by the Flag Research Center as a special FB issue. In the course of proofreading over 20 articles and 260 pages, I got to know the FB house style and Whitney’s approach to editing. Afterwards, noticing that the Flag Bulletin had the occasional typographical error, I suggested to Whitney that he send me articles in advance—since I was going to read them anyway I might as well help him catch typos. Unable to resist wielding the red pen, I soon found myself suggesting copy-editing improvements. Whitney quickly put me on the masthead and began routinely sending me article drafts for copy-editing. Since then I edited well over 200 articles, some more than once! The only problem with that arrangement is that since I was already familiar with the content, the published FB came as a bit of an anti-climax.
I participated in over 25 NAVA meetings and ICVs with Whitney, and what impressed me most is his willingness to engage anyone interested in flags—from the novice to the expert—with equal enthusiasm and grace. For example, my son Mason (who was interested in flags before he could talk) first met Whitney at age 2. Later, Whitney provided encouragement and guidance as Mason researched and delivered three award-winning papers at successive ICVs. After Mason (at age 13) presented his first paper—on “Tribar Flags” in Victoria in 1999—Whitney formally welcomed him into the ranks of vexillologists and presented him with a signed copy of Flags and Arms through the Ages and across the World (a book we had always called “Whitney’s Big Book of Flags”). I told Mason afterwards that he’d just completed his “tri-bar mitzvah”.
The next year, before starting his work on “Mappy Flags” for presentation in York, Mason asked Whitney what scholarship had already occurred—Whitney was able to tell him “the coast was clear”, and predicted he would find perhaps three dozen examples. Whitney may have been as surprised as anyone when Mason identified over 400 flags with maps on them. In gratitude, Mason provided a full copy of his paper and research materials to the Flag Research Center. Later, Whitney would write a stellar college recommendation for Mason for his successful early application to Occidental College.
When the Flag Bulletin completed 50 years of publishing, I saluted Whitney—through this reminiscence—on his dedication to sound scholarship (even at the expense of timely publication), his commitment to advancing the science of vexillology (even if he has to repeat himself to reporters constantly), and his enthusiasm for promoting connections among flag scholars (even as it takes significant time away from his paying business).
The flag world owes Whitney a tremendous debt. Our flags are at half-staff.
Whitney Smith, founder of modern vexillology, died on 17 November at the age of 76. For more on the life of Whitney Smith, see the obituary in the New York Times.
We’ll be celebrating the first World Vexillology Day (Saturday October 1) with a public show and tell at 2:00pm at Salmon Street Springs at Waterfront Park here in Portland, Oregon. Everyone is invited to bring a favorite flag (or two, or three…) to show, and to tell why they find it meaningful. Come have Fun with Flags!
Salmon Street Springs is located in downtown Portland at the intersection of Naito Parkway and SW Salmon St.
FIAV, the International Federation of Vexillological Associations, has called 1 October 1961 the “birth-day of modern vexillology” as it marks the debut of the world’s first journal of flag studies: Gerhard Grahl and Whitney Smith’s Flag Bulletin. This birthday, I think, calls for an annual celebration of all things vexillological: World Vexillology Day; Vexiday for short.
Heraldists have International Heraldry Day (June 10th), pirates have International Talk Like A Pirate Day (September 19th)—is it not time that flag enthusiasts got their day in the sun? This April I pitched this idea to my colleagues in the Portland Flag Association, who thought it had potential for expanding public awareness of vexillology, especially among young people—and generally having fun with flags. With a unanimous vote, the PFA became the first member of FIAV to support the idea and to agree to celebrate the inaugural Vexiday this Saturday, 1 October.
The PFA will be marking Vexiday with a flag show-and-tell event in a public space here in Portland. Scholars in Eastern Europe will observe it at the First Georgian National Conference of Vexillology and Heraldry. Italian vexillologists are organizing a public event at Sforza Castle in Milan. How will you be celebrating? You might consider joining a flag association, displaying your favorite flag at your home, submitting a design to a flag contest, praising vexillology online (use hashtag #vexiday), or just raising a toast to Whitney Smith or another flag luminary. Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.