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.
Judith Bernstein: Union Jack-off on US Policy in Vietnam, 1967. Charcoal and oil stick on paper.
Robert Longo: Study of American Flag X-2, 2012. Ink and charcoal on vellum.
Alain Jacquet: Camouflage Jasper Johns, La voix de son Maître, 1963. Oil on canvas.
Roe Ethridge: Louise with Flag, 2014. Dye Sublimation Print on Aluminum.
Jonathan Horowitz: Rainbow American Flag for Jasper in the Style of the Artist’s Boyfriend, 2014. Glitter and enamel on linen.
Note: “Flutterings” — notes from the editor on our last meeting — is a regular feature in The Vexilloid Tabloid.
September 2015 Flutterings You Need to Know
In our September meeting, hosted by Larry Snyder in a small theater—complete with fresh popcorn—at the Oswego Pointe development in Lake Oswego, 8 PFA members enjoyed a lively evening of flags. As the host, Larry led the introductions and moderated the discussion.
We welcomed a new member, Jerry Fest, a flag collector from Fairview (originally from Philadelphia). He flies a different flag at his home each week, and posts it on Facebook (see facebook.com/WhatsthatFlag). He’ll bring something for show and tell next time.
Michael Orelove gave an update on his latest flag solicitation project: to collect from the respective municipal governments the city flags of all 50 US state capitals. He presented the flags of Carson City, Nev.; Cheyenne, Wy.; Frankfort, Ky.; Jefferson City, Mo.; Lansing, Mich.; and Montgomery, Ala. A popular motif: capitol domes.
He also showed off a flag he recently purchased: Helen Rogers’ Poppy Flag, which he learned about from her article in Flagmaster 153 (and ordered from her website, thepoppyflag.com). Rogers was inspired by the 1915 poem by John McCrae:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below…
In Flanders Fields.
David Ferriday presented what appeared to be an ordinary American flag on a stick. But looking closer, it was labelled MADE IN U.S.A.—a true rarity! He also passed around a clipping from the housewares catalog FLOR, advertising Union Jack floor tiles (www.flor.com/hey-jack-red.html).
He also presented a strange flag design he had encountered: the flag of the “Veteran Exempts”— possibly used in the last battle of the War of 1812, the Battle of Plattsburg on Lake Champlain. The Exempts were a New York militia made up of veterans of the American Revolution (who were thus exempt from required military service); their flag design survives only as a verbal description and it’s unclear if it was ever actually made and used (see www.crwflags.com/fotw/flags/us-vetx.html).
As is his generous habit, Patrick Genna brought with him flags he had bought at Goodwill to give away at the meeting. This time they were those of Greece and Australia.
Scott Mainwaring’s show-and-tell flag stumped the crowd: it was the flag of the shipbuilding city of Bath, Maine. The striking heraldic design was created in 2013 by Keith Hammond “with the assistance of the city council’s flag committee”, and manufactured via a successful Kickstarter campaign. See www.jeremyhammond.net/archives/102.
Our next meeting will be at the home of Michael Orelove on Nov. 12th. Michael took the Portland Flag Association flag for him—the customary task of the next host.
[Thanks to Scott Mainwaring for text and Patrick Genna for photos.]
The US flag has a sad history of being used to compel patriotism. One low point occurred in 1940 when the Supreme Court, in the throes of World War II, ruled in Minersville School District v. Gobitis that religious dissenters could be forced to salute the flag in the name of national unity (or, for example, be expelled from school).
Three years later, the Supreme Court overruled its own decision, saying that forced speech was an infringement on free speech and that constitutional rights were “beyond the reach of majorities and officials” (West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnett).
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.
Thanks to the contemporary flag art blog flagworkz.tumblr.com for bringing this remarkable artist to our attention!
The Red Flag is, among other things, a traditional symbol of workers’ power, dating back at least to the Merthyr Rising of 1831 when Welsh rioters used calf’s blood to stain their flag red.
In the United States, however, you won’t see many red flags on Labor Day.
Judging from photographs online, flag flying on Labor Day in the US has from the beginning pretty much been limited to the US flag. Labor unions and their locals sometimes march with flags, but more often with banners held from cross-poles (or signs on poles) — see above. The very fact that the US celebrates Labor Day in September, rather than International Workers’ Day on the first of May, points to a desire to distance the American version from the Socialist holiday, and to head off any perceptions of un-Americanism with copious displays of the Stars and Stripes.
As a communication symbol used for posters and fliers, the mark wasn’t compromised by limited resources. When it needed to be printed, there would always be shops with PMS 185, a standard red, on hand. The lines were so definite and simple that the skills of volunteer nonartists or trained printers working in art centers around the West could shape the symbol of their identity with a nationalistic vigor. When the UFW began organizing lettuce and strawberry pickers in and around Salinas in the 1970s, women living in company housing turned their quarters into fabricas de banderas, or flag factories, to manufacture banners for the coming strike.
Fuentes also sees in the Black Eagle design connotations of non-violence:
The eagle’s head faces to the right, looking to the future. Under wings that mirror the architecture of Mesoamerican temples, the image is anchored in the past, and the base replaces talons, giving it a peaceful stability. This eagle is no urgent survivalist sweeping in to catch its prey.
If labor unions want to increase their visibility, on Labor Day and throughout the year, they might want to turn to Chavez’ simple and powerful flag for inspiration.
The [ZFC], as the noted flag historian, the late Howard Madaus stated, is the largest most important representation of U.S. and American flags in the world. Containing many important foreign flags, the ZFC is more than a large accumulation; rather it is a dynamic working collection, used for research, exhibition and educational purposes.
In the ZFC are over 3,500 artifacts, divided into sub-collections containing:
– 900 United States flags,
– 600 Civil, State and maritime flags,
– 700 Foreign flags,
– 700 Flag related items: pins, jewelry, post cards, trapuntos & memorabilia,
– 200 Historic quilts, many patriotic with some containing or made with flags,
– 430 Reference books, pamphlets, posters, and photographs relating to flags.
Much of the collection is online, at www.flagcollection.com. As Ferrigan mentioned above, portions of the collection are exhibited from time to time, at a variety of venues. For example, attendees at the 24th International Congress of Vexillology of 2011 in Washington, DC were able to view a number of historically significant flags:
A 2003 ZFC exhibit at San Francisco’s Presidio is the subject of this short video.
The ZFC was also involved in the production of an hour-long PBS documentary, also entitled The American Flag: Two Centuries of Concord & Conflict. They sell DVDs of the program in their small online store.
Trailer for The American Flag: Two Centuries of Concord & Conflict™. The producers, FILM POLICE!, write:
Specially made for PBS prime-time national broadcast, a one-hour television documentary including rare archival footage, images of actual historic flags, and stirring original music, this television special is based on the book by the noted scholars Howard Madaus and Dr. Whitney Smith. The program traces the history of the American experience through the stories of Revolutionary War battle flags, Civil War flags, Custer flags, Lincoln flags, 1876 Centennial flags, President Kennedys assassination limousine flags, 9/11 flags and many more. Some of these rare, priceless artifacts will be seen for the first time publicly in this program. Historians, flag collectors and prominent Americans include Norman Lear, filmmaker Harold Ramis, activist Tom Hayden; who share stories about the flag as art, flag history and flag collecting. Revolutionary and Civil War re-enactments help bring the story of the American flag to life. Flag stories include the origin of the Pledge of Allegiance, the Sothebys auction of rare revolutionary flags, and noted flag collectors Ben Zaricor, Louise Veninga, and Kit Hinrichs. This is the definitive television program about the untold history of the American flag.
For its part, the US government had had an eye on Cuba at least since the beginning of the nineteenth century, when Thomas Jefferson tried without success to buy the colony from Spain. Half a century later, a Venezuelan adventurer named Narciso López recruited a band of filibusters in the United States to invade the island. Supported by Mississippi Senator [and future Confederate president] Jefferson Davis and others, López hoped to annex Cuba to the US as a slave state, thereby bolstering the Southern states’ clout in the Senate and averting the threat of civil war. The flag López created—red, white, and blue, with stripes and a star—flew for the first time in lower Manhattan in the year 1850, raised by The New York Sun over its headquarters at the corner of Nassau and Fulton Streets in a show of support for annexation.
López’s scheme failed, but commitment to slavery would remain an element of US-Cuba relations for some years thereafter. [ … ] The first act of the Cuban independence movement after it declared war on Spain in 1868 was to free the slaves under its jurisdiction, but the Spanish Empire devoted enormous resources to maintaining its last footholds in this hemisphere. The Cuban insurgents lost their first war of independence in 1878, and slavery remained legal on the island until 1886.
By that point, the flag the filibusters had brandished—“López’s flag” as the Cuban insurgency’s greatest leader, José Martí, called it—had become the banner of independence. The lives lost in its service transformed it from a petition for annexation into the flag of Cuban sovereignty. The great Cuban ethnomusicologist Fernando Ortiz coined a term for this complex cultural process, which he identified as a fundamental dynamic of Cuban history. He called it transculturación and believed that it grew out of the resilience of the Africans, brought to Cuba against their will, who coopted the alien cultural symbols available to them to create new and vibrant meanings from the unspeakable trauma they had endured.
Walk down any street in Cuba and you’ll also encounter riffs on the American flag. Reporters from the US have been surprised to note that Cubans like to sport shirts or leggings emblazoned with the flag of a nation that has embargoed their country for more than half a century. And why shouldn’t they? After all, the Cuban flag evolved from the same shapes and colors. None of us can say what any person means by the design on the t-shirt he happens to be wearing; it may be an expression of support for the Cuban government’s policy of normalization, an expression of antipathy for the Cuban government, or the proud showing off of a gift from an uncle in Rochester, New York, or a sister in Union City, New Jersey.
If Canada, the United States, and Mexico were to join to form a North American Union, what would the resulting flag look like?
Mike Hale, the former owner of Elmer’s Flag and Banner, put this flag together for me.
Residents of each country can easily recognize the color and design elements of their national flag in it.
[Editor’s note: The same flag design appeared on the cover of a special issue of the John Birch Society’s magazine, The New American, in October 2007. The flag was manufactured for the cover photo shoot. See NAVA News #196, page 11.]