By John Hood and Ted Kaye, May 2010 (updated January 2020)
The Portland Flag Association had its roots in the local organizing committee for the 28th annual meeting of the North American Vexillological Association (NAVA). The organization itself was conceived at a sub-meeting of NAVA 28 in October 1994. It was originally intended to be a regional organization for the “Cascadia” region, with quarterly meetings hosted by members in Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. The first regular meeting was held in Seattle on April 8, 1995. However, sometime after that, as the logistics proved overwhelming, it was reduced to the “Portland Flag Group”, since most interested parties lived in or around Portland. At one point in 1998 we briefly characterized ourselves as the “Portland Flag Interest Group”.
By 1999, Harry Oswald (who had chaired the NAVA 28 committee, and even had a personalized license plate reading “NAVA 28”) was doing his best to keep the rabble in order. He would keep the mailing list, recruit members, send out meeting notices, and edit a one-page newsletter that summarized each quarterly meeting. That May, John Hood tried his hand at a full-color two-page newsletter (Vol. 1, Iss. 1 of the Vexilloid Tabloid), but it proved too daunting for his steam-powered computer and he gave up.
At our meeting on January 11, 2001, we agreed to identify ourselves with the official name of “Portland Flag Association”.
The quarterly meetings became regular rotating events at four members’ houses and an average of about seven people attended each meeting. There would always be a “show and tell”, where members would display their latest finds: Harry Oswald, his rare books; Mason Kaye, his ICV presentations; John Hood, his latest 3×5 flag acquisitions; Stewart Cameron, his unusual flag gleanings from thrift stores and flea markets; Mike Hale, his experiences and merchandise from running the largest flag store in the country—Elmer’s Flag & Banner; and, of course, Ted Kaye with flags from where he had traveled and information from his editing of NAVA’s journal Raven and his development of Good Flag, Bad Flag.
In early 2002, we invited Doug Lynch, the designer of the then-current Portland city flag, to give what turned out to be a 90-minute presentation on his experience with the art and politics of the flag’s development in 1969–73. He concluded by saying if he could do it again, he’d make certain changes to the design, but it was more than 30 years late. We pointed out that sitting in the meeting were the flag’s designer, the flag’s manufacturer, the flag’s historian, and the compiler of a flag-design book—who better to improve the flag? Doug then made adjustments to better represent his original vision before politics confused the design. We got involved with the project, lobbied the city and testified before the council, and on September 4, 2002, the city council passed an ordinance to officially modify the flag. In 2003 NAVA honored Doug with the Vexillonnaire Award for his efforts and Mason Kaye chronicled the city’s flag history in NAVA’s 2004 book American City Flags.
In July 2004, John Hood was moved to re-launch the newsletter, the Vexilloid Tabloid, with his new and improved electrical computer. The result was surprising, even to him! He started with Number 2, and has since produced a fine and continuous print run, with exchanges with several other vexillological publications. Enough happens at our meetings to fill several pages and with Ted so involved with surveys, we have a chance to see interesting graphics of all kinds of flags. Since the group is so active, not to mention talented, we are able to make comments with some authority, for what they are worth. The newsletter tries to have a little fun, hence the flag quiz. It also entertains serious articles such as Scott Mainwaring’s piece on Flags as Artifacts and Ted Kaye’s Flags over Antarctica. While John is too modest to say so, the VT rivals many other flag publications and often scoops them with current flag news.
After debating a PFA flag for several years, in 2007 we started in earnest to develop one. With so many experts, that took a while, but in early 2010 we succeeded in choosing one from among the many excellent proposals.
In 2008, The Oregonian launched an attempt to redesign Oregon’s state flag. While that effort ultimately failed to effect a change, it did elevate flag design in the consciousness of the citizenry, and over 1,000 people submitted proposals. Mike Hale and Ted Kaye helped on the project, and gleaned contact information for those who submitted the best designs, so they could be invited to join the PFA.
Our membership appears to have been nearly completely male, which seems consistent with flag groups world-wide (even the females associated with meeting hosts tend to absent themselves). We have had teen-aged members, notably Mason Kaye (starting at 13) and Max Liberman (who has been very active recently). In fact, several PFA members supported Mason’s tribar studies, culminating in his presentation to the 18th International Congress of Vexillology in 1999 in Victoria, BC, where several PFA members watched him earn the Driver Award for best paper.
For most of our history our meetings have occurred quarterly, generally hosted by John Hood, Mike Hale, Ted Kaye, and Harry Oswald—others have also hosted, including Don Klett, Scott Mainwaring, Marshall Goldberg, John Schilke, and David Ferriday. In 2010, finding that we often had too much to share in a 2–3 hour evening meeting once a quarter, we resolved to meet every two months. New hosts since then have included Michael Orelove, Jessie Spillers, Patrick Genna, John Snyder, Dave Anchel, Fred Paltridge, Joyce & William Gifford, and Max Liberman.
The Portland area has an unusually high concentration of NAVA members and others interested in flags. In fact, of the 6–8 regional flag groups in the US and Canada, the PFA is easily the most active—judging by frequency of meetings, attendance at meetings, or by publications. Due to the efforts of Scott Mainwaring, in 2010 we launched this website.
Harry Oswald moved to Texas and has since died, but his legacy thrives. He may have thought he was in charge of this mob, but he wasn’t, just as no one is now, and yet it grows. Doug Lynch has also died (in 2009 at age 96), but a student of his—David Koski—has joined the group and is carrying on his concepts.
John Hood, our mainspring for so many years, died in September 2011, but others have stepped in to carry the torch.
Ted Kaye serves as the newsletter editor, producing the Vexilloid Tabloid with the help of many contributors; he sends out the meeting announcements, too. Scott Mainwaring continues to manage the PFA’s web presence with elán, making our information available to flag enthusiasts near and far and keeping us in step with technological advancements. Mike Hale sold Elmer’s Flag & Banner in late 2011, bringing the new owner, David Anchel, into the group. Max Liberman has served as our delegate to FIAV for each biennial general assembly since 2013.
As of the first of 2020 our roster numbers 70 members, with 8–18 people at each bi-monthly meeting. And 250 more vexos around the world subscribe to our newsletter.