A Flag for the Hub City of Oregon

Albany, Oregon wants to join the ranks of cities with flags.  Spurred by the vexillonaires of GUAVA (the Greater Unified Albany Vexillological Association), led by West Albany High School math teacher Cole Pouliot, the city is running a design contest through 5 pm Pacific Time on 5 July 2016.  The design contest winner will receive a $100 prize.

You can submit up to three entries by visiting cityofalbany.net/flag.

On that webpage you will find this primer on Albaniana:

What is Albany to you? Here are some facts to get started.

  • Albany is the county seat of Linn County, and the 11th largest city in the State of Oregon.
  • Albany is located in the Willamette Valley at the confluence of the Calapooia River and the Willamette River in both Linn and Benton counties.
  • Albany is credited by historians and architects with having the most varied collection of historic buildings in Oregon.
  • Albany, previously a primarily an agricultural and wood products manufacturing town, now calls itself the “rare metals capital of the world”, producing zirconium, hafnium and titanium.
  • Albany and the surrounding communities are major exporters of grass seed.
  • Albany’s easily accessible location along major roadways, railways, the Santiam-Albany Canal as well as the WIllamette and Calapooia Rivers cemented Albany’s original nickname of Oregon’s Hub City.

The flag contest presents an opportunity for Albany to adopt for the first time a symbol of its unique character and history, as it currently has only the generic Americana of its city seal.

For more on the contest and GUAVA, see the Albany Democrat-Herald article announcing the contest.

Derek Duman and Cole Pouliot presenting the GUAVA flag at last month’s PFA meeting.

Vexilloid Tabloid #58

The latest issue of the PFA newsletter is here:  The Vexilloid Tabloid #58 (June 2016). Featuring:

  • Introduction: NZ, VT, and Albany (Ted Kaye)
  • A U.S. Canton Honoring Alaska (Michael Orelove)
  • A Flag for the Other Portland (Ted Kaye)
  • Czech Municipal Flags (interview with Petr Exner by Scott Mainwaring)
  • Redesigning the U.S. Flag (Scott Mainwaring)
  • New Flags for Australia’s States? (Max Liberman)

As always, you can find notes from the last PFA meeting, a roundup of flag-related news and notes, the What’s that Flag? quiz, and Portland Flag Miscellany (flag usage in Portland and the many uses of Portland’s city flag).

And, as always, it’s free and worth every penny!




Pride, Unity, and Flag Design

In Vexilloid Tabloid #57 we reported on a research project by Australian high school senior Max Pickering.  Since then, he has interviewed a number of vexillologists; conducted surveys of residents of his home town of Adelaide, South Australia; and revised his research question to the following:

To what extent does the design of a flag influence its ability to evoke a sense of identity and pride?

The results of his study are nicely presented in this 12 minute YouTube video.


Survey Results
Survey results: Proportion of respondents agreeing that the flag produces pride or unity, or is well designed, for the Australian national flag vs. the Adelaide city flag.

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

The province of New Brunswick has a fine heraldic flag, depicting a ship (a three-flagged, single-masted, oared galley called a  lymphad, as traditional in Scottish heraldry) beneath a  fantastically elongated golden lion passant (a symbol of the Canadian monarchy, and of German Brunswick) .

What’s wrong with this picture? You might point out that lymphads have never been used in the Maritime Provinces, and that monstrous gold lions are seldom seen in apocalyptic red and yellow skies over Moncton. And you would be right. But that’s not what bothers me about this flag. I rather like the psychedelic heraldic imagery. Heraldic artists are entitled to artistic license.

What bothers me is that the direction in which the wind is depicted blowing on the flag is always the opposite of the way the actual wind is blowing when the flag is flying.  (And since heraldic flags are “printed through” so that the reverse is the mirror image of the obverse, it doesn’t matter if you happen to be looking at the back of the flag — the real and imaginary winds are always opposed.)

Why didn’t the heraldic designer of this flag (Alan B. Beddoe, O.B.E., (R.C.N.V.) Rtd.) fix this apparent problem by having the ship head the opposite way: away from instead of towards the hoist? (Hoist is the flag terminology for the edge of the flag attached to the flagpole.)

The New Brunswick flag with the lymphad turned around.

Well, in addition to now somewhat awkwardly presenting an apparent chance encounter of an aerial lion headed to the left with a ship headed to the right, this would violate the heraldic principle that the direction of honor is away from the sinister (to the observer’s right) and towards the dexter (to the observer’s left).  Turning the ship around would suggest it was, like Sir Robin in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, bravely running away, not forward.

Sir Robin and minstrels.

Heraldry aside, when a flag is flying from a flag pole it has an implied direction of motion that is into the wind — and opposite to the actual motion the flag would have it it were to become detached from the pole.  This idea that the forward edge of the flag is its windward one becomes more apparent if you imagine the flag flying from a moving pole, so that it is the motion of the pole (held by a marcher, perhaps) rather than the wind that is causing the air to move past it.  By this flag-logic (which gives the same result but for different reasons than heraldry-logic), to be understood as moving forward, the ship needs to be facing the hoist. (This flag-logic is also the reason that “backwards” US flags are worn on the right shoulders of some military uniforms and placed on the right side of vehicles.)

The US flag on the right side of Space Shuttle Endeavor.

This need to show vehicles (and people, and animals) facing into the wind only comes into conflict with the way the wind itself needs to be depicted on the flag when the vehicle is understood to be pushed by the (imaginary) wind.  Take away the sail, for example, and the problem goes away — the imaginary wind can be shown to be moving in an anti-heraldic direction, consistent with the real wind, and (hopefully?) not raising any heraldic hackles.

The New Brunswick flag with the lymphad turned around.

However, the question of which direction is perceived as forward on a flag is larger than the particular problems depicting sailing vessels presents.  But that is a subject for another time.

More US Flag Improvements

We announced a provocative design exercise in Vexilloid Tabloid #57, namely:

Ignoring the political near-impossibility of change…simply from a DESIGN perspective, how could the US flag be improved?

We reported earlier on two proposals emailed to us, but there have been some other ideas presented since then, on our Facebook page, in the Flags and Vexillology discussion group, and at our meeting last evening.

The main theme was simplification, but that came in strikingly different forms.  Some looked to the history of the US flag’s evolution, and proposed reinstating the original 13-star, 13-stripe flag.

Others looked to this same evolutionary history of the US flag to simplify the flag not by reducing the number of stars, but by structuring them into a simpler pattern (something perceptual psychologists might call a gestalt) — either based on circles or the 5-pointed star shape itself. Here are some historical examples, plus a couple of proposals that look ahead to Puerto Rican statehood.  (Note that before 1912 no specific star pattern was specified.)

Nick Artimovich of the Chesapeake Bay Flag Association posted this image of a beautiful and unusual 50-star concentric circle flag from his collection.

Zoli Truskova suggested reducing the number of stars to one, and replacing the blue canton with a blue bar at the hoist.  Truskova’s design is identical to the rather obscure “Ceremonial flag of the Texas Navy Association” (texasnavy.org), which was derived sometime after 1958 from the naval ensign and de facto first flag of the Republic of Texas (1836-39). For the ceremonial flag, the union was replaced by a blue bar at the hoist in order to distinguish it from the flag of Liberia (adopted 1847).

Truskova’s proposal. Also, the Texas Navy Assn. ceremonial flag.

Truskova’s design also brings to mind a proposal to replace the canton with a wide blue bar advocated by Navy veteran Samuel J. Kapral.  Kapral kept all 50 stars but wanted to give them enough space to be seen from a distance.  He sent his design to the White House in 2014 but never heard back.

Samuel J. Kapral (1925-2015) shows his redesign.

PFA member David Koski presented a radical redesign that gives the 50 stars plenty of room — the entire field — by doing away with the stripes entirely.  It still has a blue canton, with 13 stars arranged in the Hopkinson pattern.

David Koski’s all-star flag.

The most radical simplification came from Matthew Brawn on Facebook, who represents the 13 original states with a 13-pointed star, on a diagonally divided field of red and blue divided by a rising white stripe symbolizing “the strength of the country”.

Matthew Brawn’s redesign.

Rather than redesign the US flag, contrarian Scott Mainwaring proposed to de-design it by proposing that the Feds relax the flag’s specifications to explicitly encourage organizations, manufacturers, and individuals to create their own star patterns.  Any flag having 13 red and white stripes and a blue canton of 50 stars, of any sizes, shapes, colors, or patterns, would meet the revised specification. He wrote:

Annin, Valley Forge, Flag Source, Flag Zone and local flag manufacturers might compete with one another in promoting their own in-house designs.  Individual US states might also create their own variants – perhaps California could use the stars to outline a bear, and Alaska could make the Big Dipper out of a subset of large stars and relegate the rest to small stars in background constellations.  With this freedom would come responsibility: It would be up to each variant designer to make their star pattern beautiful and meaningful.

In this way, the dull uniformity of millions of identical copies of the Standard US Flag could be replaced with a rich culture of individual expression that would better represent the American ideals of individual freedom and collective diversity.

Unbeknownst to Mainwaring, Michael Orelove — who lived in Alaska for many years — had already independently created a variant US flag for Alaska, ingeniously highlighting 8 of the 50 stars to form the big dipper.  He gave away this flag at the meeting as part of an ongoing effort to downsize his belongings.

We thank everyone who submitted designs and ideas for this challenge, providing plenty of evidence that there is lots of room for creativity and debate using the US flag as a starting point.

Rate the Semifinalists for Portland

The contest being run by the Bangor Daily News to propose a new flag for Portland, Maine is asking for your feedback on 10 semifinalist designs no later than this Sunday, 15 May.  Here are the 10 semifinalists – with the designers’ statements and brief notes by Ted Kaye in the captions.

The three most highly rated flags will go on to the final round of voting, which closes Friday, 27 May.  The winning designer will receive a $300 prize.


City Flag Improvements Update

As we blogged about last year, many efforts are underway to improve (or to create in the first place) municipal flags.  The list just keeps growing, so we have moved it into its own page, Municipal Flag Improvement.

We currently have 42 cities or towns on this list of efforts, 41 in the US, one in Canada.  (If you know of others, please let us know at editor@portlandflag.org.) Thirty-seven of these efforts are ongoing, with five having concluded successfully in new flags:

Why so much interest in city flag design?  Two words: Roman Mars.  The host of the popular design podcast 99% Invisible gave a TED talk based on the Good Flag, Bad Flag principles in March 2015, Why city flags may be the worst-designed thing you’ve never noticed.  In the twelve months following its May 2015 appearance online it has been viewed over three million times. For more on this pop cultural phenomena, see our blog posting  How Roman Mars Brought Vexillology to the Public, this recent Atlantic/CityLab piece, or better yet, view the TED talk itself:

For more on the history of many US and Canadian city flags, check out the books American City Flags and Canadian City Flags, now freely available online.


Improving the Design of the US Flag

In the most recent Vexilloid Tabloid, we announced a design challenge:

Ignoring the political near-impossibility of change…simply from a DESIGN perspective, how could the US flag be improved?

Readers were (and still are!) encouraged to send proposals to editor@portlandflag.org, to be discussed at our next meeting.

Here are two proposals readers have sent in so far.

A Mature Union

A proposal from Mathieu P.

I am so happy that you bring forward the question of the American flag. I have been complaining for so long about it; I believe it fails both in its symbolism and its representation. I complained to my mother as you kindly suggest in your newsletters, but she doesn’t care about it at all as she is Canadian.

First of all, the idea of representing the 13 states of New England is a poor idea. That’s way too many stripes to begin with, and it is somewhat redundant as those 13 states are also represented by a star. In order for a state to be represented twice, there has to be a really good reason, better than just being the first 13 states of the Union. I mean a REALLY GOOD reason. We will come to that in a few seconds.

Also, those 50 stars are just crazy. There are way too many of them, they are thus too small. As I also suffer from a very rare form of Vexillological Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (VOCD) which forbids 2 colors like red and blue to touch, I find that flag painful to look at because some of the red stripes touch the blue canton. It just hurts.

Fortunately, I have a solution. First of all, let’s ask ourselves WHY are the United States of America the way they are today. The answer is short and sweet: because the North kicked the a** of the South and the Confederated States were defeated at last. That is quite something, because America is supposed so stand for equality and freedom. I propose to retain only the 6 first states that never seceded and never permitted slavery: Pennsylvania, New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Jersey. Those are the 6 “pure” initial States of America. The fact that the 6 bands are located at the bottom of the flag means that the country is now standing on a purer basis, a basis set up by those 6 States in particular.

As for the 50 stars, one can be a bit smarter than using one star for one State. Now that the Union has reach maturity and no new States are expected to join, a single star, made of 10 summits, can stand for 10 stars. We now only need 5 stars, they can be bigger.

This flag is much better than the current one, and I hope it will replace it in the near future.

Heresy in Blue and Gold

A proposal from Tony B.

As this is a purely academic exercise in flag design I guess anything (within the vexillographic rules) goes.

I promised a surprise, so here goes.

In today’s inter-connected world, isolated, solipsistic, sovereignty is a luxury – and even an illusion – that means less than it did at a time of contesting empires (whose chief export was the misery of much of the last century, the effects still with us).

President Obama has warned the British about the risks of “Brexit” (leaving the EU), arousing indignation, that he has a nerve urging Brits to “yield sovereignty – something the United States would never dream of even contemplating”.

Well, let’s think outside the square.

…. At some future date, the US pragmatically seeks and is pragmatically accepted as a member of the EU (after all, if Australia can sing at Eurovision, anything is possible) – or shall we say that the US “returns to its founding matrix”. This makes it stronger (and “greater” than ever, Donald) and puts some backbone into the Transatlantic Alliance as a champion, with Europe, of values and ideas of the Great Books, religious and not, and melting pot that it is, of both East and West but which the West more than others has given the world.

In this imaginary context, a new look USA flag might be expressed in the EU colours.

The 50 states are represented by 10 stars each of 5 points while the Golden Pillar (the Pillar of Fire? Kubrick’s Sentinel?) at the hoist represents both the “united” in the United States and the glow of the Golden West. That refers, not to California and its gilded youth and other fables, but to the vigour of civic values that have evolved over 3,000 years, offered and shared with all of good will.

Heretical as the notion seems, it urges and celebrates ’s solidarity with both “old” and “new” Europe across “The Ditch” (with or without the Brits) but true to the ideals of the Founding Fathers and the Constitution.

1. A not so tongue-in-cheek design avoids the “Crowded House” impression of the current canton in the US flag.
2. It dispenses with the stripes (it’s a long time since there were only 13 states).
3. The triangular arrangement of the 10 stars and their 50 points suggests advance towards the Light,
4. while it also evokes a flag properly folded, an oblique reference to respect for those who have given their lives for “good and brotherhood, from sea to shining sea[s]”. (Apologies to Katharine Lee Bates).


Ted Kaye on Flag Stories

Jeppe and Birger Morgenstjerne of the Danish design agency Ferdio recently released an extensive set of beautiful vexillological infographics entitled Flag Stories. These have attracted, deservedly, considerable attention around the web, including that of Linda Poon of The Atlantic‘s Citylab.  In her article What’s in a Flag’s Design? she asked our very own Ted Kaye to help put five of the Morgenstjernes’ analyses of the national flags of UN member states in context:

  1. The three-striped “tribar” layout is the most popular
  2. Red, blue, and white dominate the colors of the world’s flags
  3. Colors have individual meanings, too
  4. The star is the most commonly used symbol on flags
  5. The simpler the flag, the more efficient it is

Check out Linda Poon’s interview with Ted Kaye here:


Vexilloid Tabloid #57

The April edition of our newsletter is out early, featuring  an insightful article political science professor and psephologist Erik Herron on last year’s referendum in New Zealand. (That vote determined the design that Kiwis are deciding this month whether to adopt as their new national flag.)

Contents for Vexilloid Tabloid #57:

And, as always: notes from our last meeting, the Portland flag miscellany, the What’s that Flag? quiz, and more!