The North Star Flag (1989)

The North Star Flag
The North Star Flag by Rev. William Becker of Winona & Lee Herold of Rochester

Since 1989 efforts have been made to adopt a new Minnesota state flag. The North Star flag was voted “best overall” in an unofficial contest for a new Minnesota flag sponsored by the Saint Paul Pioneer Press (2001).

The star recalls the state motto chosen by the pioneers, “L’etoile du Nord” (“The North Star”). The blue stripe represents our lakes and rivers. The white stripe represents winter. The green stripe represents our farmland and forests. Gold represents our state’s natural wealth. The waves represent the state name, “minisota” — a Native American name which means “sky-tinted water.”

The North Star Flag is…

  • highly visible when flying at a distance
  • simple to remember or sketch
  • clean in design: no clutter from words, complex seals, etc.
  • attractive – both in design and meaning
  • highly distinctive among state & national flags
  • inclusive of Indian & pioneer legacies (like the state seal)
  • praised by state newspapers as well as flag experts who have designed modern national flags
  • timeless: rooted in our heritage but open to the future
  • symbolic: uses proven principles of heraldry & flag graphics

Heritage & Heraldry

Nature watercolor
Nature watercolor composed by Sally Gerhart of Brownsdale (used with permission)

This flag symbolically illustrates the state name (“minnesota,” or “sky-tinted water”) and motto (the “north star”) – a technique called “canting heraldry.” Since the state name comes from the Indian natives, and the motto from the pioneer settlers, both legacies are duly honored – but with symbolism open to all people and generations. The flag also uses the northern colors which are often seen in Minnesota flags, banners, and logos.

Flag designed by

  • Rev. William Becker of Winona
  • Lee Herold of Rochester

Endorsements

“Flag of a Different Color” – Saint Paul Pioneer Press (Features Dept. Contest, August 14, 2001)

“It seems many Minnesotans agree with flag scholars who recently declared our state’s flag one of the nation’s ugliest.  In response to that troubling national report, the Pioneer Press asked readers to submit their designs for a new, improved flag …. We thank all who submitted designs.  Here are the winners — one best overall, plus winners in each of three age groups.

Best Overall: The Rev. William Becker of Austin, Minn., and Lee Herold of Rochester, Minn.  Herold and Becker believe Minnesota needs a vibrant flag that speaks to Minnesotans as powerfully as the U.S. flag speaks to all Americans (Becker, of Queen of Angels Church in Austin, is an expert on the state flag with the Minnesota Historical Society).

In 1989, Becker and Herold appeared before the Minnesota Legislature twice to discuss creating a new flag.  This flag, what they call “the North Star banner,” was the design they presented.  But it was not adopted by the state.

Now, the men hope their ode to Minnesota will receive renewed attention.  They say their flag has multiple meanings: the North Star recalls the state motto, adopted by the pioneers; gold is for our state’s natural wealth; blue is for our lakes and rivers; the waves illustrate the Indian name “minisota” (meaning sky-tinted water) and the “land of 10,000 lakes”; white is for our winter; green is for our farmland and forests.”

“Minnesota Should Have a Flag Worth Waving” – Minneapolis Star-Tribune (Editorial, March 21, 1989)

“From a distance of 100 yards how many Minnesotans can distinguish their state flag from, say, Nebraska’s?  From 100 feet?  Anyone want to try for 10 feet?

It’s not that Minnesota has the most prosaic flag of all 50 states.  It’s that it shares the distinction with more than a dozen others, each content mainly to sew a copy of its state seal in the middle of a blue sheet and then run the thing up a flagpole to see if anyone salutes, or even notices.

That’s a shame.  The official Minnesota flag needn’t compete in splendor with Old Glory.  But when displayed with those of other states — as at the recent Inaugural Day Parade or with the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence in the rotunda of Washington’s National Archives building, it ought to stand out enough to catch the eye, and carry enough symbolism to clutch at a loyal Minnesotan’s heart.

Instead, the visitor is more likely to see and admire the dazzling hues of Maryland’s quartered arms, California’s bear flag, Georgia’s Confederate battle flag, Texas’ proud lone star or Iowa’s eagle-emblazoned tricolor.  Only the determined eye will pick out Minnesota’s flag from among all the other drab, dark-blue look-alikes.

Minnesota used to be somewhat more imaginative.  Until 1957, the flag was blue on one side, white on the other.  But flags of such design were expensive.  So for the last 32 years, the Minnesota flag has been anonymously blue on both sides.

It’s time for a change.  With the approach of the original state flag’s 1993 centennial, a legislative committee has agreed to seek a new design — something more distinctive and recognizable.  One committee member dismissed the proposal as a waste of time.  But that’s the kind of Philistine thinking that gave Minnesota its present banner.  The redesign of the state flag is a good idea that should be treated seriously by legislators, citizens, and flag designers.  Minnesotans deserve a state flag they can wave with pride.”

“Time for new state flag” – Rochester Post-Bulletin (Editorial, March 12,2002):

“A good case can be made for designing a new state flag for Minnesota.  The main reason is that the existing state flag, adopted in 1893, is poorly designed, according to flag design experts.  It lacks focus, is too complex and uses symbols that are not relevant to 21st century Minnesotans.  The flag consists of a rectangular blue field with the state seal at the center.  In the center of the state seal is a Minnesota pioneer plowing the prairie, with an American Indian horseman riding in the background.  The flag bears three dates — 1858, when Minnesota was admitted to the union; 1819, when Fort Snelling was established; and 1893, the year the flag was adopted.  In addition, there are 19 stars, since Minnesota was the 19th state admitted to the Union after the first 13.

There are more details, but those are enough to show that the flag violates the first requirement of a flag design — simplicity.  Fortunately, a Rochester man, Lee Herold, has been active in offering a replacement design to a legislative committee.  The committee is headed by state Sen. Ed Oliver of Deephaven, Minn.  Oliver supports a bill that would appoint a task force to select a new state flag.  Herold, who operates Herold Flags in Rochester, has advised the committee that the Minnesota flag design has been ranked 67th out of 72 state and provincial flags evaluated by the North American Vexillogical Association, and organization of flag design experts.  It based the ranking on a poll of 400 flag experts throughout the world.

Herold says that there are a few key standards for good flag design.  They include simplicity, good use of color, distinctiveness, differentiation from other flags and “flyability” — how the flag looks when flying or at rest.  The design should be easy to remember and should have a distinct focus.  All of those characteristics are present in a design presented to the committee by Herold.  It includes a large yellow star on a field of blue, with a white stripe underneath.  Herold said that he hopes the task force is appointed and that it reviews the subject and chooses a new flag — whether it is the design that he suggested or another one.

Choosing a new state flag is probably not at the top of the list of urgent needs for most Minnesotans.  However, a state flag serves the same purpose as the nation’s flag — a symbol of unity and common purpose.  As long as Minnesota has a state flag, it might as well have one that is recognizable and well-designed, not one that is archaic, cluttered, and mostly forgotten.  We wish Lee Herold good luck in his effort to have a task force appointed to review the need for a new design.”

“We Salute the New, Unique Flag Design” – Mankato Free-Press (Editorial, March 23, 1989)

“Do you know what Minnesota’s state flag looks like?  Don’t be embarrassed if you don’t; relative few people do.  And that’s because it’s fairly undistinguished, “generic” even.  And that’s why the proposed new flag design, unfurled before a state House committee last week, deserves serious consideration.

Minnesota’s banner has waved in anonymity since 1893, when it was designed — white on one side and blue on the other, with the state seal in the middle of both sides.  In the late 1950’s, it was changed to blue on both sides.

There are a couple of problems with that design.  First off, it is virtually identical to 20 other states’ flags — 25 if you count the states that use another color instead of blue.  Second, everything on the reverse side of the flag is backwards.  It declares us to be “atosenniM” and everything looks like it’s written in those funny letters the Russians use.  Finally, it says nothing about us as a people or about Minnesota as a state.  The art on the state seal depicts an Indian fleeing from an armed farmer while apparently showing him an obscene gesture.  In the background is a sun setting behind some mountains.

The new design, proposed by a group of people from Rochester, is unique and colorful, and its symbolism celebrates the good things of Minnesota.  The basic design involves three horizontal stripes, the top one equal in width to the bottom two.  The top two-thirds is blue, for the Land of Sky-Blue Waters (Mini Sotor in Ojibway).  The green bottom stripe represents the great northern forests and sprawling southern prairies, the state’s great vegetable heritage.  The white of the center stripe is for the winters we all endure and survive together.  Completing the design is a gold “North Star” in the upper left-hand corner on the blue section.

Other states have striking and unique flags.  Alaska’s is a tasteful blue with eight stars arranged as the Big Dipper and Pole Star; New Mexico has yellow with an Indian sun symbol.  Wyoming has a white buffalo on blue; Indiana has blue with a gold torch.  Hawaii’s is an eye-popper that looks like a collision between the U.S. and British flags.  And there are many more marvelous designs.

The whole point of a flag is to be a symbol, and Minnesota’s current flag doesn’t do the job.  We need a flag with some flash and some color.  We need a flag that’s as unique as Minnesota and Minnesotans.”

“That Old Flag” – Worthington Daily Globe (Editorial, March 21, 1989)

“There is not a school child in southwest Minnesota who can draw the Minnesota flag, freehand.

We had better amend that.  There are notably gifted children living in southwest Minnesota.  But there are few children in Minnesota, few adults in Minnesota, few people anywhere who could make a drawing of the state flag.

It’s a complex thing.  The Minnesota flag incorporates the state seal, which includes a depiction of a waterfall, a farmer plowing, an Indian riding on a horse, a musket, and a sunset.  The state seal is inside a floral wreath which incorporates the dates 1819 (the year Fort Snelling was established), 1858 (the year Minnesota was admitted to the Union), and 1893 (the year the flag was adopted).  In addition to this “Minnesota” is neatly lettered into the design.  There are four stars near the top, with a larger star signifying the North Star.  Then there are four stars over hear, four stars over there, eight stars in two clusters near the bottom.

On and on.

Minnesota’s flag seems to be everything a flag should not be.  It is something so detailed almost no one can remember all its symbols and symbolism.  (It is similar to several other state flags in this regard.)  Reproductions are necessarily expensive.  And the flag is something few children could describe, much less draw.  It is not and it never was a truly satisfactory flag.

This becomes preface, needless to say, for an endorsement of the proposal […] to dump the old state flag and to adopt a new design […] with a band of green at the bottom representing Minnesota’s farms and forests, a band of white above this to represent snow, and then a band of blue: Minnesota, land of sky-blue water or sky-tinted water.  There also is a single gold star, the symbol of the Star of the North […]

Rep. Gil Gutknecht of Rochester notes not much thought went into Minnesota’s original flag, which was hastily designed for an exhibition at Chicago.  The first flag was a two-sided flag, with a white background on one side and the blue background on the other.  The flag was redesigned in 1957, making both sides blue, but the seal is backward when viewed from the back.

There really is not much to commend the present flag.  Let’s all talk about this matter and come up with something new and improved.”

Sir John Ross Matheson, flag author and expert who designed the flag of Canada while a member of Parliament (letter to William Becker, January 28, 1989)

“I agree with the ten reasons for an updated State Flag.  I see them as all valid.  In my opinion simplicity is immensely important — moreover it carries better, can be recognized for what it is at a greater distance.  I like what you have produced!  All the best in your exciting enterprise.”

Dr. Whitney Smith, flag author and expert who designed the flags of Guyana and the Saudi navy (letter to William Becker, August 2, 1988)

“If the same kind of attention had been paid years ago to the state flag, Minnesota would not today have the mediocre design and the many problems associated with its like.  Ultimately, design is a matter of taste and therefore my indication that I find your design a beautiful one is neither here nor there.  From the standpoint of the professional vexillographer or flag designer, however, I can say that you have done all the right things and met all of the appropriate criteria for a good design.  The flag is distinctive, easily recognizable, handsome, symbolic, and easy to manufacture.  It respects the past and heralds the future — which is exactly what a flag should do.  In brief, I am glad to extend my endorsement for a new state flag and your efforts to have it officially recognized.”

Mr. William Crampton, flag author and expert in Great Britain, (letter to William Becker, March 28, 1988)

“I think that the design could well go forward to the legislature, and I am pleased to be able to give it my personal endorsement.  I hope therefore that the legislators of the state of Minnesota will be similarly impressed and will give the question of the flag design their very earnest consideration.  A fine state deserves a fine flag, and we are compelled to say that at the moment the state of Minnesota is not well served by its flag.”

Mr. William Spangler, former president of Dettra Flag Co. in Oaks, Pennsylvania, letter to William Becker (November 3, 1988)

“I certainly think that, from an aesthetic point of view, your proposed design is a great improvement over the current flag and it would give the state of Minnesota a very distinctive and readily identifiable state symbol.  The flag of Minnesota is certainly very similar to the flags of many other states […] There can be no denying that a distinctive and unique design without lettering usually makes for a more easily recognizable flag.  The design which you have proposed certainly qualifies in that regard.”

Purchase your own North Star Flag (3′ x 5′)  at HeroldFlags.com or call 1 (888) 288-1165

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *