Houston, We Have A Problem

Houston’s flag is a subject of criticism.  For example, in covering how Texas cities fared in the NAVA ranking of 150 U.S. city flags  John Nova Lomax in Texas Monthly wrote:

And after [Dallas’ flag at number 21] there’s a huge drop-off to number 55: Houston, where the flag dates back to 1840, when the city was all of four years old. Just as we don’t allow pre-K kids to get inked up, we should not allow toddler cities to attempt to brand themselves for all eternity.

Although a locomotive is the dominant element here, this represented an invitation more than a reality: no train would churn into Houston until years later. And although trains did play an important role in the development of Houston and continue to be a vital part of the economy today, they are widely loathed for all the traffic snarls they cause.

Despite the criticism there isn’t apparently any serious effort to improve it. But there are several  humorous and artistic  redesign proposals.

homerun-bull_design-big
Lomax was “partial” to this design from a t-shirt by James Glassman, a.k.a. the Houstorian.
ipsum-humidum
Cort McMurray in the Houston Chronicle proposed this design.

In Houston Has a Flag — We Just Don’t Like It, the staff of Houstonia “asked four of our city’s artists to go nuts and build the banner of their dreams — the wilder, the better”:

michael_rodriguez_houston_flag_shzcsq
‘After realizing he’d “need 10 flags to capture the diversity and expansive cultures in Houston,” Michael Rodriguez, a multimedia designer known for his large-scale, commissioned graffiti works, finally settled on the distinguished downtown skyline, a few escaped Houston Zoo animals, the space shuttle and a trusty taco.’ (One of several different colorizations.)
Houston_flag-rongrong_devoe_fkevlm
‘“My design is inspired by the galaxy, as we know NASA is a signature place when visiting Houston,” says Rongrong Devoe, a local fashion illustrator originally from China. “The different constellations represent the rodeo and oil derricks.” In other words, this is the flag you could show off to visitors wondering where all of Houston’s cowboys and astronauts are.’
kat_sola_flag_pmtelo
‘“No reimagining of the Houston flag could be complete without representing our loony weather: hot, cold, wet and sunny all in one day,” says designer Katsola®. She’s also included friendly characters from her well-known Houston-area murals—such as Nadeshiko the squid, who’s hugging the Broken Obelisk outside Rothko Chapel—and, of course, banh mi and pho.’
Taft_McWhorter_flag_oega5w
Folk artist Taft McWhorter offers up what’s best described as a Houston-ized Texas flag. “The Houston skyline morphs into the bayou and our beautiful green space with the path and trees,” he explains. “This piece represents our history, tradition and our growth as a community,” most notably the growth of Buffalo Bayou from neglected waterway to newly minted civic treasure.
reddit-phib1618
Redditor Phib1618 proposed this tribute to Houstonian traffic.
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Multinational Patriotism

You might think that multinational patriotism would involve pledging allegiance to Barclays, but Onjena Yo’s project, the Multinational Patriot Flag & Blog Series, seeks to re-imagine conventional notions of patriotism in more inclusive, multi-national ways.

This series grows from the desire to see American icons used in a way that represents the United States as the melting pot that it is. As several fellow tweeters observed, images of the U.S. flag, bald eagles and the like are often displayed in profiles throughout social media to indicate a specific brand of patriotism. Too often, many of these “patriots” lack an inclusive view of what “American” is. Unfortunately, this restrictive point of view is not limited to social media profiles… As a child, I remember watching my father, who served 20 years in the Air Force, quietly replace our flag each time it was stolen from our porch by our “neighbors.” I listened to my mother who taught us to assimilate for success but not be a “typical American.” To this day, I am still conflicted when expressing my “patriotism.”

In the blog half of her project, Patriot Survey Says!!, Yo has been collecting “stories honoring your personal multinational journeys.” The other half of the project is vexillographically fascinating: the use of circular, roundel-like combinations of national flags. Each consists of an outer ring made up of elements of a national flag, surrounding an inner disk made up of part of, or elements from, a second nation’s flag.  (Yo sells clothing using these proprietary designs on Redbubble.com.)

These circularized “flags” are organized according to the outer, surrounding ring. For example, here is part of the collection of flags with the United States surrounding other North American flags:

us

 

In cases where the non-US flag is based on a star, or stars, an alternative scheme of orbiting stars (the “hybrid header”) is offered in addition to the standard scheme (the “swirl header”). For example:

South Korea is a special case. Rather than representing the flag of South Korea surrounded by a swirl of the US, the order is reversed:

us-southkorea

In turn, this formed the basis for a set of Korean diaspora flags:southkorea

There are also designs in which the Canadian flag surrounds the other, for example:

canada-surrounds

Finally, there are designs in which the US flag swirls around non-national flags are symbols:

To purchase merchandise featuring these designs (and many more), visit Onjena Yo’s Carbon-Fibre Media Redbubble store.

 

That Australian Flag Bathing Box

At Brighton Beach not far from downtown Melbourne, Australia is a famous row of colorfully painted “bathing boxes” (19th century huts built as shelters and changing rooms for beach goers).  Box Number Two, painted to resemble the Australian flag, is a popular photographic subject.  Very popular.  Consider this selection of postings found on Instagram.

Is there a vexillographic structure anywhere else in the world that enjoys such popularity?

For more #flagpix, follow us on Instagram.

Our Most Popular Posts of 2015

Here are our 20 most-viewed* blog posts of the year.


#20 – Andy Warhol and the American Flag (226 views)

Andy Warhol, 1983 - by Alberto Schommer
Andy Warhol, 1983 – by Alberto Schommer

#19 – Fargo — A Flag for the Flagless? (247 views)

WEB_FargoFlag_Crtsy-The-Arts-Partnership
The most popular submission is this remarkably simple but unconventional design.

#18 – Heart Flags (257 views)

Tim Van Horn took 2010 portraits of Canadians between 10/08 and 1/10, and created this Canadian Heart Flag mosaic.
Tim Van Horn took 2010 portraits of Canadians between 10/08 and 1/10, and created this Canadian Heart Flag mosaic.

#17 – American Flag Refreshed for 2015 (303 views)

Flag of the United States of America, as of 1 April 2015.
Flag of the United States of America, as of 1 April 2015.

#16 – The Flag of HDYNATION (307 views)

A Flosstradamusified Chicago flag.
A Flosstradamusified Chicago flag.

#15 – Outkast’s Stankonia flag (330 views)

Cover of the album Stankonia.
Cover of the album Stankonia.

#14 – Letter Society Project 25: City Flag (338)

"For Project 25, we are going to be (re)designing a city flag. It doesn’t matter which city. Just pick one and make a beautiful flag for it :)" June 2015 design challenge by @LetterSociety
“For Project 25, we are going to be (re)designing a city flag. It doesn’t matter which city. Just pick one and make a beautiful flag for it :)” June 2015 design challenge by @LetterSociety

#13 – US City Flag Improvement Efforts (353 views)

Grand Rapids, Michigan
Current flag of Grand Rapids, Michigan

#12 – Improving Boston’s City Flag (381 views)

Boston, Massachusetts
Flag of Boston, Massachusetts.

#10 – Historical Flags (385 views)

loeser
Pete Loeser’s website Historical Flags of Our Ancestors has grown over time into a wonderful resource for vexillologists and flag enthusiasts.

#10 – Provo Puts Its Latest Logo on a Bedsheet (385 views)

Flag of Provo as of January 6, 2015. Designed by Stephen Hales.
Flag of Provo as of January 6, 2015. Designed by Stephen Hales.

#9 – Designs Sought for New Milwaukee Flag (414 views)

The city flag of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, designed by former alderman Fred Steffan in 1955 based on submissions to a design contest.
The city flag of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, designed by former alderman Fred Steffan in 1955 based on submissions to a design contest.

#8 – The Vexillogicast (427 views)

Simon the Cannibal
Simon the Cannibal

#7 – Mexican-American Flags (495 views)

IMG_6722
Mexican-American Flag, by Nacho Becerra. Tapestry with silkscreened stars and altered sarape.

#6 – SF Flag Redesigns (563 views)

Rachel Berger's proposal symbolizes changing fortunes: "the story of [SF] has never been flat". It can be hung with the arrow ascending, or descending, depending on the flyer's mood.
Rachel Berger’s proposal symbolizes changing fortunes: “the story of [SF] has never been flat”. It can be hung with the arrow ascending, or descending, depending on the flyer’s mood.

#5 – Machine Gun Kelly: Raise the Flag (595 views)

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From the music video: a black and white version of the US/EST 19XX flag, sewn together with a standard US flag.

#4 – Andy Warhol, NASA, and the Making of “Moonwalk” (1,248 views)

Detail of the original raw image, showing Armstrong reflected in Aldrin's visor.
Detail of the original raw image, showing Armstrong reflected in Aldrin’s visor.

#3 – Hip Hop and the Confederate Flag (1,401 views)

Image on Yeezus 2013 merchandise. From "Kanye West Is Trying To Take The Confederate Flag Back" by Sharmin Kent on thinkprogress.com.
Image on Yeezus 2013 merchandise. From “Kanye West Is Trying To Take The Confederate Flag Back” by Sharmin Kent on thinkprogress.com.

#2 – What If There Were No Third Flag Act? (1,715 views)

Michael Orelove and his 50-star, 50-stripe US flag.
Michael Orelove and his 50-star, 50-stripe US flag.

#1 – 23 Finalists for New Fiji Flag (32,833 views)

Flag_of_Fiji.svg
The current Fijian flag

* as of 28 December 2015, excluding the number of times a post was viewed via our homepage, portlandflag.org.

Flag Art at Art Basel

Art Basel is a series of international contemporary art fairs with a large online catalog.  Their Miami Beach 2015 event is happening now, with 10,665 artworks by 3086 artists.  Here are 15 works that feature flags.

US Flag

Other Flags

Who Doesn’t Like the Union Jack?

Guardian art critic and famed contrarian Jonathan Jones, that’s who.

Jonathan Jones (photo: Simon & Schuster Canada)
Jonathan Jones (photo: Simon & Schuster Canada)

The decision this summer by the British team at the World Athletics Championships in Beijing not to include the Union Jack on team uniforms prompted Jones to write an essay slamming the UK flag.  He titled it We don’t need the union jack on Team GB’s kit – it’s ugly and divisive.  Here are the highlights (or lowlights, depending on your feelings towards that flag) of what he says, in his own words:

  • The trouble with the United Kingdom’s flag, when you come to think about it, is that it is really quite ugly. … It looks crap.
  • [It’s a] jagged, explosive, aggressive flag.
  • [It looks like] it embodies an imperial arrogance or a coercive union that keeps Scotland in its place.
  • With its cluttered burst of both right-angled and diagonal radiating lines, the British flag is heavy and overbearing, forceful and strident.
  • Instead of suggesting unity, its sharp-angled divisions imply fragmentation. In fact, the relentless dynamism of its design evokes the shock and shatter of a cannon ball smashing into a French ship at the Battle of Trafalgar.
  • You don’t see many other countries imitating the British flag.
  • In its very origin, [it’s] a compromise, a merging of different national symbols.
  • Perhaps the union flag itself is a psychological boost to nationalists who want to break up Britain. Its sheer pompous ugliness unconsciously damages the image of the union.

He concludes:

So here is an idea to save the United Kingdom as a political, emotional and cultural entity. Let’s invent a new flag. Let’s visually forget the history of internal compromise and external violence this flag so unattractively embodies. A new flag for a new Britain might help us love our – whole – nation again.

As one might expect, judging by the comments and other internet reactions, the article was not well received, particularly by conservatives (the Guardian is explicitly left-leaning).  For the vexillologist, however, it is noteworthy as a rare example of flag aesthetics being discussed in the popular media, from a standpoint of art criticism.  Whether or not one agrees with Jones’ phrased-to-maximize-controversy assertions, his piece does raise some interesting questions for further research and discussion by the flag studies community:

  • If we are to consider flags as art, what practices of art criticism would help us to see them in new ways?
  • How would a flag convey pomposity and arrogance, or their opposite?
  • What are different tactics for representing unity?  Are some more effective than others?
  • What is the role of compromise vs. individual artistic expression in flag design?  Are the results of compromise always “compromised” aesthetically?
  • Why hasn’t the union jack, unlike the US flag or the French flag, been more widely imitated?  Are there examples beyond the Basque flag and the provincial flag of Newfoundland and Labrador?

Animals with Flags

To encourage loyalty, tobacco companies used to give away a small collectible piece of printed fabric (a “silk”) with each pack of cigarettes.  Kovels Antiques notes, “popular subjects included actors and actresses, animals, baseball players, college mascots and seals, flags, generals, Indians, kings and queens, U.S. presidents, and Hamilton King girls.”

This 1915 set from the Imperial Tobacco Company (ITC) of Canada mashed up animals and flags, with often surreal results:

A hippo bellows with a flag of Transvaal planted in its back.
A hippo bellows with a flag (allegedly) of Transvaal planted in its back.  Photo from eBay.
Behind a ferocious crocodile, a huge Egyptian flag has been planted in the middle of a pond.
Behind a ferocious crocodile, a huge flag of the Sultanate of Egypt has been planted in the middle of a stream or pond. Photo from eBay.
An enraged gorilla dislikes an alleged flag of the French Congo planted in his back.
An enraged gorilla has a dubious flag of the French Congo planted in his shoulder.

ITC does not appear to have been much concerned with the accuracy of the flags depicted, frequently taking artistic license.  Taken together, these silks provide strange and fanciful vexillological imagery from a century ago.

animals-with-flags-1915

Flag Art by Nimai Kesten

Nimai Kesten in front of some of his portraits, August 2013.  Photo from the Art Nerd Los Angeles blog.
Nimai Kesten in front of some of his portraits, August 2013. Detail from photo posted on the Art Nerd Los Angeles blog.

Nimai Kesten (www.nimaikesten.com) grew up in an abusive Hare Krishna boarding school in Lake Huntington, NY before transforming “into a loud-mouthed, rebellious, New York City graffiti writing skateboarder” and surfer.  He writes in his bio:

In his early 20’s, Nimai began to look at the life he carved out on the streets of New York for himself – skateboarding, graffiti, nightclubs, partying, models, fashion, and general juvenile superficial mayhem. And, suddenly, for the first time, he began to examine this pop culture world through, new, spiritual eyes. But the eyes of a man so horribly wronged by the leaders of a Faith he was born into, that the contradictions, confusion, and questions became all consuming.

Nimai moved to Venice Beach, California in 2002 to focus on his art as a cathartic means to make sense of his conflicting, personal ideas of ‘Faith’ and the corruption of one’s ‘Beliefs’.

In several of his pieces he has turned to the American flag and its contradictions.

America/Iraq knotted, 2013. Colored pencils on paper, tar.
America/Iraq knotted, 2013. Colored pencils on paper, tar.
Black and White Tar flag, 2013. 33"/66" canvas, acrylic paint, tar.
Black and White Tar flag, 2013. 33″/66″ canvas, acrylic paint, tar.
Flag (Golden Knot), 2013. 64"/31.5" acrylic paint, oil paint, polyester resin, canvas.
Flag (Golden Knot), 2013. 64″/31.5″ acrylic paint, oil paint, polyester resin, canvas.
All That Glitters Is Not Gold, 2014.  33x55", canvas, oil paint, acrylic paint, polyester resin.
All That Glitters Is Not Gold, 2014. 33×55″, canvas, oil paint, acrylic paint, polyester resin.

Thanks to the contemporary flag art blog flagworkz.tumblr.com for bringing this remarkable artist to our attention!

Flags in Cuba – A Trip Report

by Ted Kaye, Vexilloid Tabloid #45 (April 2014)

I recently visited Cuba and saw a profusion of national flag use—often as an instrument of political messaging.  Here’s a sampling.

A massive flag hangs in Havana’s Museo de la Revolución.
A massive flag hangs in Havana’s Museo de la Revolución. Photo by Ted Kaye.
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The flag as artwork at the Muraleando arts community. Photo by Ted Kaye.
Picture3
The flag of the city of Havana. Photo by Ted Kaye.
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The U.S. Interests Section (without diplomatic relations we have no embassy). When in 2006 the Bush Administration erected a giant scrolling news feed on the building, the Cubans immediately responded by placing 138 enormous flagpoles in front of it, each flying the Cuban flag. Photo by Ted Kaye.
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The flag poles flying their flags. Photo by Ted Kaye.
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Flags fly over the headquarters of the Catholic Church. Photo by Ted Kaye.
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The flag flies over the museum at the Bay of Pigs. Photo by Ted Kaye.
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A private flag display on a crumbling building in old Havana. Photo by Ted Kaye.
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Flags festoon the entrance to a small revolutionary museum. Photo by Ted Kaye.
Picture10
Professor Avelino Couceiro (right), a fellow vexillologist, secured our entrance into the normally-closed Hall of Flags in the city museum to see the nation’s most historic flags.
Picture11
Historic flags on display at the Havana city museum.

Flag Pinwheels

What flag designs make good pinwheels?  Let’s consider…


South Korea: The Taegukgi lends itself extremely well.

Korea Bizwire: 50 Korean Flag Pinwheels Installed [in Cheongju] to Celebrate Upcoming 70th Anniversary of Independence
Korea Times: Pinwheels patterned with the “taegeuk,” a symbol on the Korean flag, whirl near the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History in central Seoul, Friday.
@seona212 on Instagram: A strange feeling that evokes your patriotism. #cityofGimcheon #Gimcheon #Koreanflag #thenationalflagofKorea #cityhall #pine #night #pinwheel #summer #specialevent #themostcomplicatedflag it is called #태극기, a.k.a #Taegeukgi


China: Does not seem to be common, but here is an example.

Kechuang Plastic on Alibaba.com: Chinese flag printing pp plastic spinning toy pinwheel for celebration


Hong Kong: The design is practically already a pinwheel. But has anyone made it into one?

The flag of Hong Kong.


Israel.

ReformJudaism.org: Yom HaAtzmaut Pinwheels


Palestine. We couldn’t find flag-based pinwheels, but we did come across this project by the American Friends Service Committee involving black pinwheels to protest the 521 Palestinian children killed during Operation Protective Edge in July 2014.

#GazaPinwheels project poster by Mohammed Hassona.
#GazaPinwheels project poster by Mohammed Hassona.
Black pinwheels in yard.  AFSC #GazaPinwheels project.
Black pinwheels in yard. AFSC #GazaPinwheels project.

Canada.

Stock photo (c) Brad Calkins.
Sold by Pincher Creek.
DLTK’s Kids: Canada Day Pinwheel Craft


United Kingdom. Like Hong Kong, the design is pinwheelish.

Found on Betterware’s Pinterest. Link to betterware.co.uk broken.
Stock photo (c) susandaniels.
From eBay Italy, missymooltd: Union Jack disco pin su bastoncino di legno.


United States. Many examples, as stars-and-stripes can be put on practically anything, even if the flag itself isn’t pinwheelish.

Identity Links: Promotional 6″ American Flag Pinwheel
Image from world-food-and-wine.com
Party City: American Flag Pinwheel
From Alpha Mom.
From Alpha Mom.