The North Star Flag
A PROPOSAL FOR A NEW MINNESOTA STATE FLAG
for a new Minnesota flag
What are its origins?
The North Star Flag preserves the basic symbolism of the Official State Flag – namely, our Pioneer and Indian legacies. It shows the North Star (the Pioneer motto) shining upon a land of “sky-tinted waters” (the Indian name, mnisota). The design won a 2001 contest for a new state flag sponsored by the St. Paul Pioneer Press. A draft bill has been composed for its adoption, including precise design specifications.
Two Minnesota "vexillologists" (flag specialists) created the flag in 1989, after reviewing various options for a new state flag prior to the centennial of the original flag (1993). Rev. William Becker and Mr. Lee Herold have lifelong interests in flags, and are longtime members of the North American Vexillological Association (NAVA). Rev. Becker has written an article on the state flag's history for the Minnesota Historical Society, as well as a book on papal flags. Mr. Herold owns and manages Herold Flags in Rochester.
The two received support for the design, which they have released to the public domain, from international experts. These included Sir John Ross Matheson (the "architect" of Canada's flag), Mr. Walter Angst (of the Smithsonian Institution), Mr. William Crampton (of Britain's Flag Institute), and Dr. Whitney Smith (of the former Flag Research Center in suburban Boston).
The two men appeared before a legislative committee twice in 1989. A bi-partisan effort to study the matter, led by Reps. Gil Gutknecht and Wayne Simoneau, was endorsed by several legislators and newspapers, but was unsuccessful (i.e., no bill was filed). Sen. Edward Oliver revisited the matter in 2000 and 2002, and his bill continues to resurface. Similar initiatives have occurred elsewhere.
Why the pattern?
The pattern of the flag – a star and several horizontal stripes – evokes the basic pattern of the American flag. The star appears in the "canton," the most visible part of a flag when flying.
The stripes are arranged so that the white band clearly separates blue from green. This respects the rules of heraldry, where softer colors (like white) segregate bolder colors (blue, green), to distinguish each from afar. The lower stripes are slightly “abased” to capitalize on the relative stability of a flag’s lower hoistward area, when flying in the wind.
By coincidence, the pattern resembles three other state emblems (as below): the National Guard JFHQ insignia (1933), a state flag proposal in the Utne Reader (2001), and the flag of Duluth (2019). All four designs, conceived independently during the past century, have won contests or official standing. In fact, a wide top stripe bearing a star, above narrow wavy bottom stripes, has no parallel among national and regional flags worldwide; the pattern is uniquely Minnesotan, and is an “archetype” for a new state flag (as below).
Why the colors?
Blue, white, and green are intuitive northern colors, evoking sky-tinted waters, winter, and farmlands and forests (see examples at left).
These colors appear in many Minnesota emblems, including the state license plate, the state fair logo, the government's "official brand," various civic flags or logos, and the principal entries in separate contests for a new state flag sponsored by the St. Paul Pioneer Press and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, which stated:
"We asked readers to suggest a new flag, and we received almost 400 responses. While we can't print them all, it's fair to say most used the colors green, blue or white – or all three – and a star, representing the North Star." (Star-Tribune, Mar. 14, 2000, p. E1)
Why the star?
"The North Star" has been Minnesota's official motto since statehood (1858), and is inscribed on the state seal in French: "L'étoile du Nord." Gov. Henry Sibley chose it to honor Minnesota's pioneering spirit; the French rendering recalled the first European explorers of the northern frontier.
In official state flags, the North-Star theme appeared in several distinct ways: in the written motto itself, in the topmost (and largest) of the 19 stars which ring the state seal, and (as intended by the designer) in the "Great Star" pattern ringing the seal – a pattern often found in 19th-century U.S. flags. In keeping with that pattern, the North Star Flag renders the star prominently and in gold. The "Great Star" pattern and gold color are also evident in U.S. flags carried by Minnesota units in the Civil War.
The North Star is 5-pointed, in keeping with both U.S. and Minnesota traditions – including our official state flags, the National Guard JFHQ pin and patch, and other public representations, such as Northstar Commuter Rail Line, the former "North Stars" hockey team, etc. The North-Star theme features variously in the state seal, the State Capitol, the Minnesota History Center, Duluth's flag, and the logo of the Minnesota State university system. It also appears in the flags of Alaska and Maine, while single stars are prominent in the flags of Texas, Arizona, Puerto Rico, Nevada, North Carolina, California, and Massachusetts – all 5-pointed. (Note: By contrast, 8-pointed renderings often resemble the "Christmas Star" or other compass-star flags elsewhere.)
Why the waves?
The waves reflect the name mnisota – a Dakota Sioux word meaning "sky-tinted water" or "cloudy water." Natives demonstrated it to early settlers by dropping a little milk into water. In heraldry, water is represented by a "wavy fess" (i.e., stripe). This is ideal for a state with so many lakes and rivers. Not surprisingly, regional Native American pictographs likewise used parallel wavy lines to denote a river or stream.
The name was given first to the river, then to the territory, and finally to the state. Heraldry based on such nomenclature is called "canting heraldry." The three wave crests also recall the three great watersheds formed by the nexus of two continental divides in northern Minnesota – directing water toward the Hudson Bay, Atlantic Ocean, or Gulf of Mexico.
Wavy stripes appear in the Minnesota National Guard JFHQ insignia, in several Minnesota flag redesigns, and in the civic flags of Winona, Duluth, and Mankato; as well as in many flags outside Minnesota, such as those of St. Louis (Missouri), British Columbia, New Brunswick, Vancouver (Canada), etc.
Are there other designs, too?
Yes. Since 1989, state flag contests have been held by print media in the Star-Tribune (Mar. 14, 2000), Pioneer Press (Mar. 31, 1989 & Aug. 14, 2001), and Utne Reader (Nov.-Dec. 2001). Online forums also promote redesigns, including Minnesotans for a Better Flag, Change.org, Reddit, and Alan Hardy on Facebook (semifinalists here). Several alternatives are shown at left.
The first coincidentally resembles the North Star Flag, but with a star centered in white. Designed by Mr. Marcel Stratton, a former art professor, it won the Utne Reader contest. The second resembles the Minnesota National Guard JFHQ insignia. Several more modify the North Star Flag with either the U.S. colors (as required in 1893 and proposed in 1957), or a variant star or straight stripes. The remaining designs apply the North Star to different patterns. Still other designs feature a Nordic Cross, a loon, the "Great Star" pattern of 19 stars found in the current flag, or other motifs.
However, none of these rival the North Star Flag's traction. Though unofficial, vendors employ it on apparel and souvenir items, and it is the preferred alternative for those who display one. It has flown at homes, businesses, overseas bases, and elsewhere – including Minnesota United soccer games, where supporters have embraced it, and have also created their own team variations (e.g., with the team's colors and star).
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