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364. State Flag Revisions: Arkansas., Arkansas, what in the wide world of sports am I going to do with your flag? As of writing this sentence, I have no idea but that's kind of the fun with this project. I get to do research and see how what I've learned will shape the end product. It's all very instinctual; there's no time for second-guessing—research of any real value could take months—and it's the pressure of design revisions performed so quickly and learning about the history of a simple object that make it a worthwhile venture. Only three in, and I'm having a lot of fun and hearing a lot of good things from people which is quite inspiring. So please, keep on sharing via the buttons on the site, and don't be afraid to comment below. 

Back to Arkansas. It doesn't take long to find something really fishy with the history of this particular state banner. It, like Alaska's, is the result of a design competition of sorts, but I'm using the word competition very lightly in this case. You see, we might be dealing with a rigged contest. Let me explain.

Most stories of how the flag came to be read like this: "The Arkansas flag was created in 1913 when the Battleship U.S.S. Arkansas was commissioned. The Daughters of the American Revolution discovered that there was no state flag to present to ship with (presenting a flag to ships was traditional). They decided to hold a flag designing competition. Miss Willie Hocker of Wabbaseka designed the winning flag which looked much like the flag we fly today." Seems pretty cut and dry, right? 

What you don't read in many articles is that the contest was initiated by the Pine Bluff Daughters. (A local branch of the Daughters of Confederacy.) They had the contest chaired by then Secretary of State, Earl W. Hodges, as he was the one who originally told the group that the state didn't have a flag at all. In my mind, this had to be embarrassing. It was 1913 for goodness sake, and Virginia had been flying an official state flag for 52 years already. Anyway, The Pine Bluff Daughters hold the design contest and receive no less than 65 entries. A lot of them, from what I've read, featured the state flower, the apple blossom.

The judges included a Dr. from the University of Arkansas, a Little Rock school teacher, a former President of the Arkansas Federation of Women's Clubs AND a member of the Pine Bluff Daughters. There's no word on what basis the winner would be chosen, what the process of deciding would be, or what ended up being the second or third place designs; but what we do know is this: Miss Willie Hocker of Wabbaseka, a member of the Pine Bluff chapter of the D.A.R, won with her design. So let me get this straight. The people who ran the competition, in a way, won the competition? How convenient. It appears we just won't be correcting a design here, but we'll also be correcting history. 

Despite being a winner of dubious origins, Miss Willie Hocker was about to be introduced to a little something creatives call design by committee. You see her original design would not go unscathed, going through a few rounds of revisions before being declared the official state flag in February 26, 1913. Let's take a look at the winning design.

Replica of Miss Willie Hocker's Original Design

Now let's see how the Daughters of the Confederacy, I mean Miss Hocker, rationalized their, I mean, her design. The 25 stars in the blue field represented Arkansas' entry into the union as the 25th state. The Big white diamond was in reference to Arkansas being the only diamond-producing state in the country. Crater of Diamonds State Park was responsible for this point of pride. Well, the diamond mine that used to occupy the state park, more accurately. Of course, history would make this a moot point when diamonds are found in upstarts, Colorado and Montana. The three blue stars in the middle represented the three countries Arkansas had been a part of throughout its history: Spain, France and the US. 

Here's where Miss Hocker learns the joys of having a client. When the design was initially submitted to the state, the design committee started acting like a committee and strongly recommended the word ARKANSAS be included in the design. After all, if the name of the state isn't on the flag than how is anyone to know from what state it comes? Since the design was probably designed by the committee itself anyway, there was no objection from the original artist. But adding an all-caps word to a flag really started to mess with the simplicity of the design. Where would it go? What would happen to the nice row of stars in the white field? Poor Hocker's design was already starting to crumble. 

The Second Submission:

Okay, so the committee adjusted the stars to accommodate the state's name and the design was resubmitted to the state. Now, for some of you in normal circles, you might be expecting everything to be cool at this point. Everyone's happy. The committee is happy. The state is happy. Enjoy your new flag, Arkansas. But every designer knows this is never the case. Someone somewhere was shown the design and decided to put his or her two cents in and here's how that probably went. "So wait a country minute here. If those gosh-dern three stars are representin' the three countries of which we've been apart, where the hell is the dad-blamed fourth star for the Confederate States of America? Have you all lost your minds?" And that boys and girls is how the third submission was created for the official Arkansas state flag. This took ten years, by the way, during which the flag above served as the state's banner.

1923 Arkansas State Flag:

This flag has served Arkansas ever since. The revisions were not over, fast-forward to THIS YEAR, 2011, during which Governor Beebe declared the official colors to be exactly those of the US Flag, which I now know to be called Old Glory Red and Old Glory Blue. He also declared that any flag purchased by the state must be manufactured in the US, through Act 1205. 

So today, we have a red, white and blue flag, with a bunch of stars that represent the order in which it became part of the union — not something I'd want to hang my hat on, if I'm making a flag. Not to mention the whole 'only diamond producing state' thing is now obsolete. Even the four larger stars in the middle are not without their complications keeping in mind the general temperature about all things confederate. We're not left with much besides spelling out Arkansas, which might just be the dumbest design by committee moment in history, if I may lapse in hyperbole for a moment, as I am want to do. In summary, we don't have a lot to work with here, especially if my general approach is to produce a flag that is unique and not emphasizing the stars and colors of the US whenever possible. This could be tricky.

Let's procrastinate!

Let's procrastinate! Here's a little tidbit about Arkansas from Wikipedia, "The name "Arkansas" derives from the same root as the name for the State of Kansas. The Kansa tribe of Native Americans are closely associated with the Sioux tribes of the Great Plains. The word "Arkansas" itself is a French pronunciation ("Arcansas") of a Quapaw (a related "Kaw" tribe) word "akakaze" meaning "land of downriver people" or the Sioux word "Akakaze" meaning "people of the south wind". The pronunciation of Arkansas was made official by an act of the state legislature in 1881, after a dispute between the two U.S. Senators from Arkansas. One wanted to pronounce the name /ɑrˈkænzəs/ ar-kan-zəs and the other wanted /ˈɑrkənsɔː/ ar-kən-saw." And crap: "In 2007, the state legislature officially declared the possessive form of the state's name to be Arkansas's." Time to go back in this article and adjust that across the board. 

Back to the design. I can already tell that these southern states are going to kill me. Like Alabama, there are a lot of sports references that could imbue the new flag, but that doesn't seem right. Does the flag below feel like something that should fly above the capital in Little Rock? (By the way, here's how to do a proper 'Hog Call' if you ever venture to one of the University of Arkansas games.)

The University of Arkansas Razorbacks Flag.  

Let's see what the quarter design folks did with a similar project. Seems like they stuck with the diamond, complemented by a duck, rice plants and a little landscape. Arkansas is the leading producer of rice in the United States. (Oh the things we're going to learn over the next 46 states!) Sadly, rice is not something that makes for a nice flag graphic. All in all, not a lot of help here, except that I like the reference to the outdoors. It's at this point that I realize the state slogan is "The Natural State" and perhaps focusing on the natural beauty or the outdoors in general is actually the smart thing to do. It does open things up a bit and the mallard duck referenced on the quarter seems like something with which we can work. 

Now, when I think of bird artwork, probably my favorite can be found below. There's a whole series of these beauties, all amazing and produced by artist and designer Josh Brill. (Check out this great interview by grainedit. You'll see the flora and fauna series featured, from which the sample below comes.) I absolutely love the lines, the clean shapes, and the colors. They are simple yet somehow accurately depict each bird. The mallard will look great. You can buy prints of Josh's work over at Lumadessa. I'm a fan, and hope this flag can be an homage to this series, since I don't have the money to pay him for his services.  I have searched everywhere and don't believe he has attempted a mallard duck yet, and it certainly will help make a handsome flag for Arkansas, while emphasizing the outdoor opportunities available to the state. We just need to connect it, in some way, to the older flags as that's part of the challenge I've set for myself. It doesn't have to obvious, but it must be baked into the new design.  

Western Tanager by Josh Brill:

At this point I feel like I have enough to get going and start sketching my duck, in the way that I think Josh Brill would approach the illustration. These simple illustrations are not actually simple at all. It's quite complicated using reduction to get to an animal's core shape, but eventually I get something that is pleasing to me. Then, I look back to the current Arkansas flag and realize I need to keep something from its heritage and history. I decide that although I'm dropping the stars, I would like to keep the four-nation symbolism as it's the best part of the whole deal. I settle on using diamond shapes instead, since that actually allows me to keep two elements from the previous version, even if the diamond claim now seems silly. I set the diamonds down at the bottom of the flag, under my mallard in flight and it all comes together. Now, I just hope Josh Brill is more flattered by my imitation than annoyed.  

The 2012 Arkansas State Flag: C'mon, wouldn't this thing look good flapping in the breeze?


I should note for the record that all my accusations of a rigged creative contest, despite those involved long since passing, is mostly for dramatic effect even though it seems a bit suspect and quite possible. It wouldn't be the first time, that's all I'm saying. 

Next up: California Dreamin'. Our fifth flag of fifty. 


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Reader Comments (4)

I am really enjoying this series. The last two especially have been very creative and huge improvements! We can only hope state legislatures are paying attention.
December 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTodd
Nice! Good work!
December 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAllen Walker
I like your redesign. And love the project.

I believe this this (linked) is the current flag, however. At least, this version with the single star above the name and three stars below the name is the banner on flagpoles across the state.

I find the explanation interesting. Growing up in Arkansas, I remembering being told the star above represented the United States who took possession after France, Spain and the Confederacy held possession of the state, but the website below doesn't back that up. It seems to leave the meaning of the single star above unexplained.
December 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChad Nicholson
Loving this series. I do agree you're going to have a fun time with the Southern states as they all have so much in common (food, college football, outdoors). As a Louisianan (I think that's what I'm called...), I'll be interested to see what you do with my state. We are 'Sportsman's Paradise' so you could go the hunting way, but we also have a strong French heritage.

Funny thing about that French heritage, though. It's pretty much nonexistent for the top half of the state. A flag with that heritage would never pass the legislature.

Then again, maybe it could?....

At any rate, love the work thus far!
December 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCameron

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