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).
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.
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.)
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.)
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).
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.
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”.
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.
“Guiding Flag of Portland, Maine” by Vince Facchiano Designer’s comments: The number of colors (three) represent the past, present and future of the city. The flag is horizontally symmetrical, so there is never a concern that the flag could be mistakenly flown upside-down. Also it will still look appropriate when flown/display vertically (long-ways top to bottom) or on an angled pole. The blue triangle provides a nautical theme as if it was a pennant, but actually represents the peninsula of land that Portland was originally settled on and occupies. The two golden yellow triangles point inward, towards Portland together representing the rising sun, and separately the Atlantic Ocean (top) and the more immediate river, cove/harbor, and bay that surround Portland (bottom). The golden yellow represents the water, a main stay of industry and wealth providing abundance and transportation. The medium, lighter color blue presents the land of Portland and its strength and history (the past), which the city is tied to. It points outward to the golden yellow (the future) and brightness of the sun and sunrise. The lighter shade blue is lighter because it is a mix of the dark blue from the waters of Portland and the lighter blue of heavens and sunlit sky, and Portland is where the two meet and combine. It also brings in the blue of the Union or starfield/canton of the U.S. flag and field of the Maine flag, but is lighter because Portland is city within the two and obtains its full strength from the two. The single ship’s wheel is Portland itself; representing strength, guidance, control, and power as a city itself and within Maine, the region, and the United States. It has eight handles representing the four cardinal directions and the four equal divisions; NW, NE, SW, SE, providing a steady, reliable port and home for all those who come to her. Together, they are a constellation in the heavens provide guidance. Colors are white, “Royal Blue” PMS 286 and “Golden Yellow” PMS 1235, both stock nylon colors for easy manufacturing in both sewn and dyed flag production. Judge Ted Kaye’s comments: While the white band may not stand out well against the yellow, the multi-part symbolism of the ship’s wheel and stars carries important meaning.
North Star Pennant” by Nicolas Roose Designer’s comments: One is the flag of the Isle of Portland (England), the place that Portland-ME was named for. It has two horizontal bands of green & blue on the fly side and on the hoist side a vertical band of ‘limestone’, with a white tower and a crown on it. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isle_of_Portland The other flag is the original flag of Maine that was used until the current flag was adopted in 1909. It consisted of a green pine tree in the center and a blue North Star on a buff-colored background. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_Maine For this new Portland-ME flag design, I charged the green & blue horizontal bands from the first flag with a buff-colored pennant-shaped triangle containing the blue North Star from the second flag. The result is a flag that is easily recognizable from afar. An 1 x 1.67 inch scaled image of the flag will prove that. The design is simple enough for a child to draw from memory. The number of colors is limited to three. Green is for the mainland, the woods in particular, as Portland is known as the Forest City. Blue is for the ocean, to which Portland Harbor serves as a major gateway. The buff color refers to the buff background of the original Maine flag and adds the necessary contrast between blue and green. The main element of the flag is the North Star. It is the mariner’s guide in conducting his ship over the ocean to his haven and therefore it became the symbol of the state’s motto: Dirigo (I lead). As the largest city of Maine, Portland has a leading role in the state’s economy. That is why I gave the North Star such a predominant position on the flag. Placing it on a pennant-shaped triangle also reflects the maritime heritage of the city. “It is an ever-fixed mark That looks on tempests and is never shaken It is the star to every wandering bark Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken” (Shakespeare, Sonnet 116) The design of the flag is distinctive as it does not duplicate any other flag, not even with alternate colors (as far as I know). It relates both to its English namesake and to the state of Maine and replaces the lettering and seal of the current flag with meaningful symbolism. In short, this is the kind of flag that might just make certain people of Portland-OR jealous, even while their own flag is already highly rated in the world of vexillology. In conclusion, I named my undeniably rectangular flag ‘The North Star Pennant.’ This pays homage to my fellow countryman René Magritte and his Treachery of Images: ‘Ceci n’est pas un pennon’. Yes, I admit, I’m from Belgium. Judge Ted Kaye’s comments: The colors and shapes in this design carry great overlapping meaning, and its overall “look” just shouts “nautical” — appropriate for Portland.
“Sunny Bird” by Natalia Lefebvre Designer’s comments: I’ve been living in Portland for about 2 years now attending Maine College of Art. I have to get up early every morning for school. On my way walking to my school I see the beautiful sun shining between the buildings of Portland. I also hear seagulls throughout the day. The view of the sun is like no other that I’ve experienced. I think it represents Portland very well. Seagulls don’t live everywhere in the world but they definitely live in Portland. I guess when I designed this flag I wanted to represent Portland the way an outsider see it. What I’ve noticed that’s unlike anywhere else. This is what I see. Judge Ted Kaye’s comments: While all port cities have seagulls, this simple and effective imagery creates a successful design.
“Jewel of Casco Bay” by Jeff Woodbury Designer’s comments: Green for Forest City. Blue for Casco Bay. The zigzag echoes waves on a rocky coast. Portland is the central point: the peninsula in the center, pointing to the stars. Indents above and below center represent the Fore and Presumpscot Rivers. 12 stars shine for the 12 major islands of Casco Bay. Each 4-pointed star is a compass rose, symbolizing both direction and the individuality of Mainers. The stars in a grid combine to weave the warp and weft of lobster traps and sailcloth. Turned on its end, green side down, the constellations illuminate forested mountains. Green side up, and ships rest safely at anchor. Uncomplicated, but not simplistic. A flag for Portland. Judge Ted Kaye’s comments: It’s refreshing to see the division of a flag’s field hold meaning—in this case the serrated line representing the division of coast and sea. The four-pointed stars for islands create an effective pattern.
“The Buoy” by Laura Clapp Designer’s comments: I decided to design a lobster buoy representing the lobster industries that are so popular in Portland. The sun is rising in the background because we see the sun rise on the east coast here. The blue represents the water, as well as the sky because of the beautiful weather here when spring and summer come around. The green represents the seaweed in the ocean. Overall I wanted to capture the element of serenity that the ocean provides, as well as the calm of the sunrise early in the morning. The colors of the buoy are bright and fun because Portland is such a fun place to be in. The red represents the brick historical buildings seen all over Portland. Not only is Portland right by the ocean but the downtown area is quaint and cheerful and there are so many different people here. Portland is a town loved by many people and I tried by best to capture the fun, calm, and beautiful aspects of it. Judge Ted Kaye’s comments: This whimsical design would counter the stiff formality of the state flag.
“Portland: The Phoenix Rising” by Kirk Simpson Designer’s comments: This four-color design utilizes form and shape. The phoenix form shares its form as pine trees as well utilizing a blue bar on the bottom for water with the rising phoenix and sun with reflection on the water of the bay. Judge Ted Kaye’s comments: This version of a phoenix, with tremendous meaning for fire-ravaged Portland, is far better than San Francisco’s and rivals Phoenix, Arizona’s.
“Portland Beacon” by Matthew Morey Designer’s comments: The purpose behind this design for the flag of Portland is to display a beacon of pride in being a Portlander and a beacon of welcome to all others, just as the lighthouses of Portland welcome ships into its harbor. The lighthouse also represents Portland’s rich history in the maritime industries which helped Portland become the diverse, ever-growing city it is today. The goal was to accomplish all this with simple and dynamic use of shapes and a reference to the original blue and gold color scheme of the current flag. Judge Ted Kaye’s comments: An outstanding rendition of a lighthouse—not a particular site but an allegory for Portland as a beacon—makes for a stunning design.
“Portland Liberty” by Jeremy Hammond Designer’s comments: This flag is includes popular Portland symbolism and is also designed to fly well with the American flag. Judge Ted Kaye’s comments: This simple, conservative design could represent a state or even a country—the anchor is a great symbol.
“Portland Flag” by Megan Young Designer’s comments: The design of this flag is to represent events, and land surrounding Portland, Maine. The Blue background represents the water that Portland is surrounded by. The Yellow Stripe, and white buoys across the flag represent the city wealth of fishing, and making money off the water. The buoys are white for purity. Finally the 4 red stars on the four white buoys represent the four times Portland was burned to ground. I thought this was a simple design that has all the elements for city on the water with historic meaning as well. Contest judge Ted Kaye’s comments: The four buoys effectively impart the maritime heritage of Portland and the symbolism of “four” in an effective, recognizable image.
“Resurgam Flag 2” by Jeremy Hammond Designer’s comments: Blue and gold represent the sea and prosperity and provide continuity with the current Portland flag. In true heraldic form, the image of several overlapping anchors depicts a busy port. The number of anchors was chosen to honor the four fires the city has survived and in visual form to exclaim the city’s motto, Resurgam. Contest judge Ted Kaye’s comments: This stand-out design combines two symbolic themes—the nautical history of Portland and its four fires—in a striking, effective, and recognizable image. I would be proud to live under this flag.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.) Thirty-seven of these efforts are ongoing, with five having concluded successfully in new flags:
Here are two proposals readers have sent in so far.
A Mature Union
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
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).
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:
The three-striped “tribar” layout is the most popular
Red, blue, and white dominate the colors of the world’s flags
Colors have individual meanings, too
The star is the most commonly used symbol on flags
The simpler the flag, the more efficient it is
Check out Linda Poon’s interview with Ted Kaye here:
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.)