I thought I knew what I was going to do with the Kentucky flag, but I changed my mind. It's been so long that since I started that particular piece that I've moved on. (A Looooooooong time. This whole Creative Director thing sure can take up one's spare time.) Lincoln is going to have to suffice with one flag and a design that I'm most likely going to come back at the end of this deal to revise significantly. (I do try to limit myself to an hour or so of actual design time. More for research.) Any way, let's revisit the history behind Kentucky's flag and see if I can't do something more flag-like with the visual, something for which hard-core flag snobs have been crying. (And I'm glad I can count hard-core flag snobs as my readers along with crazy type geeks, design nerds and advertising nuts. You're amongst friends here.)
Okay, a little Kentucky history.
To understand the craziness that is the Kentucky state flag, one must first understand the lunacy of the Kentucky state seal. The original seal was commissioned back in 1792 by the Kentucky General Assembly and was described as such, “Two friends embracing, with the name of the state over their heads and around about the following motto: United we stand, divided we fall.” Seems easy enough, but by now you know how loose and fancy-free states run with their flags, Kentucky particularly and humorously so. According to John Brown, its first Senator, the original seal was to depict two friends, both in hunter’s clothes, in mid-handshake, with the left hands resting on the other’s shoulder. The silversmith who was paid to design the seal in 1793 depicted both men in swallowtail coats and in a full embrace. This seal was destroyed in the 1814 fire that spread in the state capitol.
Because of the lack of specifics regarding these “friends” and their greeting, many different versions of the state seal have showed up over the years. The friends are shown in everything from suits to Roman togas. Their greeting becomes anything from the modern handshake to a hug. It’s Kentucky lore that some die-makers took creative liberty with the poses to demonstrate their penchant for Kentucky bourbon and being drunk enough to actually get along. When painted in the House of Representatives in the mid 1850’s, the artist showed one man in a buckskin boots and the other in formal wear, in front of several columns. One version has the left hand of one friend shaking the right hand of the other, making it appear like they are dancing. In 1954, Ernie Giancola, a Louisville native, created a more natural looking handshake which is used in the current day seal. In 1962, the General Assembly rushed into the situation after almost 200 years, and mandated that one friend be a pioneer, the other a gentleman in a swallowtail coat.
The Crazy Dancing Kentucky State Seal:
It’s a common belief that the pioneer represents Daniel Boone, and the gentleman, Henry Clay, the state’s most visible politician, but this is not true. The friends represent all manner of country and urban folks. You can point this out next time you’re traveling through Frankfurt and your know-it-all friend tells you otherwise. You’ll show him a thing or two.
The flag is merely the state seal, set on a blue, but as we just read it wasn’t until 1962 that it became useful or accurate for a flag. Interestingly enough, in 1920 a committee from Camp Zachary decided they didn’t like the flag and offered up several suggestions for its improvement. In typical state flag history form, those revisions were lost along their journey to the Governor. Then, and you can’t make this up, in 1927 the Kentucky Historical Society commissioned art teacher, Jesse Cox Burgess to design a standard from which the flags could be made. Three flags were produced using oil and ink, but only 2 of those flags made it back to Frankfurt, as one was lost during use in a ceremony in Chicago.
Two final tidbits. 1. It was law between 1962 and 1998 that the flagpole used to hoist the state flag must have a Kentucky Cardinal at its head. In ’98, that law was changed merely to be a recommendation. 2. The flag’s proportion is much longer than other state flags, but we’ll be having none of that mess. That ends here.
*Note: Kentucky is technically a commonwealth much like my former homes of Pennsylvania and Virginia. Add to that mix, Massachusetts to complete the full list of Commonwealths in the US. What’s the difference? The short answer is nothing. Constitutionally speaking they are the same thing. The long, nerding-out answer? PA, VA and MA were some of the most revolutionary states during the American Revolution, and they wanted to signify a difference in their intended government. Commonwealth referenced the Commonwealth Period in British history when there were no Kings but instead England was ruled by Parliament.
There's not much else to know about the Kentucky state flag, other than to see it. If you closed your eyes and imagined the average US state flag, well, this is probably what you would see.
The Current Kentucky State Flag:
Initially, I wanted to do a tie-in with Lincoln's birthplace as a metaphor for the American rags-to-riches (or prominence) story, but the idea lost momentum with me when designing it. I just couldn't get it right. And the longer I took with it, the less it seemed like a true symbol for the state. A good reference, but not an obvious, "That's the gosh-darn Kentucky state flag, right there!". I needed something more simple. More graphic. And yes, more flag-like.
So, I started to reflect about my drives through the Kentucky countryside, the farms, the connection to horse racing and the obvious idea of Kentucky bluegrass came to my mind. Maybe it's a cliche, but it also seamlessly fits into a more flag-looking flag than the previous state's design and so I set the timer and got to work. Truthfully, this flag took all of about ten minutes to design from start to finish and I'm okay admitting that, because I think it works. The tough part was deciding what exact shade best represents Kentucky Bluegrass blue-green.
Technically bluegrass is well, grass-colored. Dark green. But it has buds that in the right light appear to have a bluish hue, but that's only if you let it grow to its full height of two to three feet. I'm sure there are variations that have been grown with different characteristics, but this is the short truth of things. (I'm sure there are also a slew of Kentuckians who will help me fill out the background in the comments too.) I did find a Dutch-Boy paint color called Kentucky Bluegrass 11-G-1 that I used for my reference when designing my new Kentucky flag. My goal was to represent Kentucky in a way that set them apart from the other states, and do so as efficiently as possible. I'm happy with the results. It will a handsome flag.
The New Kentucky State Flag.
Simply a field of Kentucky bluegrass, equal to the height of the sky above the fence, set in simple white shapes. About as elegant as you get and quite appropriate I think.