Flag Day, *DC* Flag Day

This Sunday is Flag Day in the United States, celebrating the official adoption of the national flag on 14 June 1777 as the Second Continental Congress decreed: “Resolved, That the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.”

In Washington, DC — taxation without representation, anyone? — Flag Day has become an opportunity not just to celebrate the national flag, but the DC flag as well.  For example, Josh Burch’s Neighbors United for DC Statehood since 2013 has held a photo contest for Washingtonians posing with the flag.

Great images of people embracing a great flag:









For more on DC Flag Day, check out this Washington Post blog posting from 2013.

The International Flag of Planet Earth

For his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Visual Communications project at Beckmans College of Design in Stockholm, Sweden, Oskar Pernefeldt has produced a very slick set of marketing materials for an “official proposal” for “the International Flag of Planet Earth“.  On May 18th, Jacob Kastrenakes posted on The Verge a writeup entitled, with needless belligerency, This is the flag we’ll plant when we conquer an alien planet This went viral, sending Pernefeldt’s flag concept zipping internationally around the planet Earth, in cyber space if not outer space.

Seven interlocking circles form a flower.
Seven interlocking circles form a flower.

Is this school project the first Internet-savvy “product launch” for a new flag?  As a point of comparison, it will be interesting over the coming months to see how the countries of Fiji and New Zealand will use graphic design and social media platforms to market the new flags now being worked on.

A row-house resident defies his conformist American neighbors by declaring his allegiance to the planet!
A row-house resident defies his conformist American neighbors by declaring his allegiance to the planet!

This project was far from a solo effort.  Pernefeldt thanks 15 individuals (including FIAV president Michel Lupant, and a heraldic artist from the Swedish national archives, Henrik Dahlström) and the following diverse set of six companies for their assistance:

  • bsmart – a photography, 3D/CGI, and image retouch company based in Stockholm and Cape Town
  • Johnér Images – a stock photography “natural imagery” firm
  • Flaggfabriken Kronan – a Swedish flag maker and retailer
  • LG Electronics – the South Korean consumer electronics giant
  • Namnband – a Swedish company specializing in garment labeling equipment
  • NASA – the US space agency (but why not the European Space Agency?)
A Mars explorer drives out into a shallow valley, inexplicably, to plant a plastic looking banner/flag.
A Mars explorer drives out into a shallow valley, inexplicably, to plant a plastic looking banner/flag.

All in all, a very impressive student project on futuristic vexillography.  It would have been even stronger had it addressed the materials requirements for spaceworthy flags, and for flags that could actually fly in the thin Martian atmosphere.  And it does not try to position itself within the existing design space for earth flags, including John McConnell’s famous Earth Flag.  But for an undergraduate art project, really not bad at all — and perhaps something Fiji, New Zealand, and other new flag promotion projects can learn from.

Randall Gray’s Flag for Oregon

By Ted Kaye; revised by Scott Mainwaring
Originally published in The Vexilloid Tabloid #30, October 2011

The PFA has honored Randall Gray of West Linn for his re-design of the Oregon State Flag, which received the most votes in The Oregonian‘s contest in 2008-09.

In a celebration hosted in February by Mike Hale at Elmer’s Flag & Banner, the mapmaker for Clackamas County was given a 3’ x 5’ version of his winning design.

Mike Hale presents designer Randall Gray with his “new” Oregon Flag
Mike Hale presents designer Randall Gray with his “new” Oregon Flag

Most members of the Portland Flag Association came for the ceremony.  At the end of the event, Mike Hale took us all on a behind-the-scenes tour of the flag store.

Mike Hale talks flag fabrication in the sewing loft at Elmer’s Flag & Banner.
Mike Hale talks flag fabrication in the sewing loft at Elmer’s Flag & Banner.

The story of the flag contest is reported in NAVA News No. 205 January-March 2010, including designs of ten finalists.  A more detailed case study calls out 12 lessons learned for would-be vexillonaires.

Interestingly, two PFA members (out of over 2,000 entrants) had designs in that top ten.  (Doug Lynch was one, and we invited Randall Gray to join the PFA  after the contest.)

The Oregonian had sponsored an effort to redesign the state’s flag in anticipation of Oregon’s 150th birthday in February 2009.

The quality of the entries was stunning—hundreds of them would have made a successful state flag.  While professional graphic artists participated and submitted spectacular designs, so did amateurs and schoolchildren.

Mike Hale and Ted Kaye helped  with an initial culling process. In two weekend sessions of 2-3 hours each, they selected about 240 entries for further consideration by the flag jury.

After that jury selected the 10  finalists, newspaper readers gave Randall’s beaver design top votes.  However, without a legislative plan and no support from the governor, the effort to update the official flag went nowhere.

The Oregonian described Randall’s design process:  “Always interested in flags and design, Gray was unimpressed with the front of the Oregon flag.  But the back, with the beaver, was another matter.  ‘The backside is the start of something good.’”  The meaning:  “Blue and gold for the state colors with green to represent trees and wilderness Oregon was blessed with.  White contrasts between the dark blue and green.  The beaver from the current flag links us with the past.  The star represents Oregon’s place in the Union.”

Elmer’s Flag and Banner generously made up the flag, using the beaver image from another entrant, Tom Lincoln.  It is likely the only such flag extant in that design!

Related links

Sure, we’ve heard from about 100 people who don’t want to give up on the current flag. They told us to go back to California! But actually, we don’t want to give up on the current flag, even though its history is not all that storied. Reporter Michael Milstein wrote about how the design was whipped up in a hurry by the Legislature in 1925 without any community input. And not to put Michael back into the crosshairs of people who like the flag just as it is, but the contest was his notion. He wanted an event, to help launch the 150th anniversary of statehood in February, that would knit together the community. That’s exactly what happened. And, we’ve gotten some very cool, innovative flag designs from readers that reflect our iconic landscape.

How to Honor Those in Uniform?

From the December 24th Daily Tribune in Mount Pleasant, Texas comes this image of seven flags sharing a pole.

Service flags fly at the courthouse in Mt Pleasant, Texas. Photo by Lou Antonelli, Mt Pleasant Daily Tribune.

In order, they are:

Flag of the US Army (adopted 1956)
Flag of the US Marine Corps (adopted 1939)
Flag of the US Navy (adopted 1959)
Flag of the US Air Force (adopted 1951)
Flag of the US Coast Guard (adopted 1964)
Flag of the US Merchant Marine (adopted 1994)
National League of Families POW/MIA Flag (recognized by US Congress 1990)

Although the flags are in the correct order, and there doesn’t seem to be any written rule about how many flags is too many when flown in this fashion, the overall effect is problematic:

  • They just look unwieldy and awkward. We expect flags to be longer than they are wide, but taken together these flags group into something like one very wide but short composite flag.  In other words, they create something in “profile” orientation, when we expect to see “landscape”.
  • When sharing a pole in this way, they necessarily reinforce the pecking order (defined, in part, by DoD Directive 1005.8) that gives precedence to certain organizations over others.  But is this pecking order relevant this context?  For example, it demonstrates that the Army ranks much, much more highly than the lowly Merchant Marine — which is technically true, but does it have to be so rubbed in?
  • They all feature printed text, which comes out backwards (reading AIM/WOP, etc.) when the wind is blowing in the “wrong” direction, from right to left, as it is in this photo.
  • Even if the wind direction were cooperating, these flapping flags would still be hard to read, with the possible exception of the bold white-on-black design of the POW/MIA flag (which it shares with the flags of buccaneers, and ISIS). Designs of this complexity may work OK when used in some contexts (for example, in military color guard ceremonies), but as Good Flag, Bad Flag points out they don’t work particularly well here.

So what is the poor courthouse to do?  Go to the expense of installing six additional poles?  Well, on behalf of flag and flag pole businesses everywhere, the answer would be an emphatic YES!  Let’s get some more cash circulating in the economy.

A more economical alternative could be to replace the six service flags with a single flag that represents all of them.  Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any such flag.

Could we at least reduce the number of flags?  The Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, and (in times of war) Coast Guard all are part of the Department of Defense; the Coast Guard is usually part of the Department of Homeland Security; and the Merchant Marine is part of the Department of Transportation.  So six of the flags above might be replaced with these three:

Unofficial flag of the Department of Defense
Flag of the US Department of Homeland Security (adopted 2003)
Flag of the Department of Transportation

This isn’t a whole lot better, though.  For one thing, the DoD doesn’t have an official flag, despite (or perhaps because) many of its officials and components having flags themselves.  For another, the intent here is to honor those serving in uniform within these departments, not all of their march larger populations of federal employees.  These departmental flags just look strange in this context — they are not viable substitutes.

By the way, there are seven federal uniformed services, each with its own flag: the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard as shown above, but also the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (which doesn’t have a flag) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officer Corps (which does, see below). Strangely, although members of the Merchant Marine (US Maritime Service) wear uniforms, the USMS isn’t counted as an official “uniformed service” but instead as a “volunteer service”.  Why honor them, but not, for example, Public Health officers dealing with Ebola and other dangers?

Flag of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Corps (from the Voice of Vexillology, Flags & Heraldry blog)

So until new ways are developed to distinguish and represent “especially honorable” employees of the federal government, unwieldy, rank-ordered, multiple-flag displays may be the best anyone can do.  At least, this is good news for our friends in NIFDA.

Blog entry by Scott Mainwaring

Vexillonairing in Coos Bay

By Scott Mainwaring and Ted Kaye, based on reporting by Devan Patel and Tim Novotny in the Coos Bay World

Vexillonnaires in Coos Bay, on the southern Oregon coast, have prompted the redesign of a prominent flag display along the city’s waterfront.

In 1991 residents wanting to “spruce up” Coos Bay convinced the city to fly flags representing the 34 countries that used it as a port of call.  Flag poles along the boardwalk and Central Avenue flew these flags for 18 years, when in 2009 the city passed a resolution to fly only U.S. flags until troops returned from Iraq and Afghanistan.

US flags fly along the Coos Bay Boardwalk.  Photo by Lou Sennick, The World.
US flags fly along the Coos Bay Boardwalk. Photo by Lou Sennick, The World.
International flags fly along the Coos Bay Boardwalk.  Photo from Oregon Coast magazine.
International flags fly along the Coos Bay Boardwalk. Photo from Oregon Coast magazine.

In 2012 the question of returning to the previous display was put before the city council, which voted against the measure. This year, feeling an end to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars was within sight, a city council subcommittee again proposed changing a return to international diversity, but adding flags of states, Indian tribes, and countries particularly significant to the region. An anonymous donor would fund the new flags.

Mayor Crystal Shoji supported the idea, saying “We would like to have an interesting display that tells a story about our community.”  The Coos Bay World was also supportive, asserting that “…flying these flags is a necessary expression of the city’s soul, and its ability to recognize and respect the world outside our own little island community.”

Replacing the US flags was controversial, especially among veterans.  The city council delayed voting on the proposal in order to ask the public for more input.  Finally, on December 2 they approved the redesign of the display, with the compromise that US flags would continue to fly along Central Avenue.

The new display will consist of US state flags (Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Hawaii, and California), country flags (Canada, Mexico, Japan, China, South Korea, Philippines, and Australia), and “locally significant entity” flags (City of Coos Bay; City of North Bend; the Coquille Indian Tribe; the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians). In addition, a flag declaring the Port of Coos Bay to be the Tall Ship Port of Oregon will be flown.

Flags to be included in Coos Bay's boardwalk display.  Missing: City of Coos Bay and Tall Ship Port of Oregon flags.  Images from Wikimedia Commons and FOTW.
Flags to be included in Coos Bay’s boardwalk display. Missing: City of Coos Bay and Tall Ship Port of Oregon flags. Images from Wikimedia Commons and FOTW.

Rainbow flag foolishness in Antelope Valley (Cal.)

Apparently the organizers of the Antelope Valley Fair in the California desert inadvertently chose to festoon their venue with LGBT rainbow flags. A local blog documents the official and community reaction:


Underscores the need for more widespread flag education, this does.