370. State Flag Revisions: Connecticut.
Jan 2, 2012 at 12:20PM
jj

Image courtesy of the Connecticut Historical Society.And thus begins the State Seals on Blue Background series. I doubt many folks will be too offended when these flags are changed (unlike most of the flags we've already visited) and besides, the seal can be used elsewhere—it's just not appropriate for a flag. If you're more than 20 feet away from these flags, you'd be hard pressed to tell them apart. From the onset of this project, I knew these were the ones that would need the most help and they will get it. Connecticut is the first flag in the second row, below. 

I can see why some states put their names on their flags now: (At least you can differentiate between Kansas, Montana, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and Oregon.) 

Where do I begin with Connecticut? I don't know too much about the state, one that I have primarily just driven through on trips between New York and Boston. I think it has a unfair reputation of harboring some fairly snobby people and if memory serves it was something like the sixth or seventh state to join the union. (*Correction: it was the fifth.) According to the state's site, Connecticut gets its odd name from: Quinnehtukqut -- Mohegan for "Long River Place" or "Beside the Long Tidal River. Personally, I think the original spelling may have caused fewer misspellings since nobody really pronounces that inner c. Connecticut is our third smallest state (5,544 square miles), more than doubling the area covered by Delaware, itself almost doubling that of Rhode Island. Other than that, it's a rather picturesque state, like a lot of the original colonies. 

According to netstate, Connected ratified the United States Constitution in 1788 and 100 years later they were still without a flag. The Anna Warner Bailey Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, now centered in Groton, decided that this needed to be changed. They approached Governor O. William Coffin with their thoughts on the subject and persuaded him to take action. According to the Anna Warner Bailey Chapter's web site, they were responsible for the design of the flag. Who are we to argue with them? In 1897, it became official. 

Evolution of the Connecticut State Seal: (1639—left, 1711—center, 1784—right)

The current Connecticut State Flag uses the state seal, itself a rather pleasing design as far as state seals tend to go. The seal features a large white (silk) shield, outlined in gold and silver and adorned with oak leaves and acorns (important, but we'll come back to that last detail.) Within the shield are three grape vines, each holding three bunches of grapes. The vines are said to represent the three oldest settlements; Windsor, Wethersfield, and Hartford, but also could be for the three separate settlements which had been absorbed into the state by the time the flag was made; Connecticut Colony, Saybrook Colony, and New Haven Colony. The three vines are also symbols for religion, liberty and knowledge. The other main feature of the flag is a banner proclaiming the state motto: "Qui Transtulit Sustinet" or "He who transplanted still sustains." 

The Current Connecticut State Flag:

There is definitely some abiguity in terms of the design elements here. The state law does require an odd size for the flag, a fly of 5' 6" with a hoist of 4' 4". This is noticeably more square than the standard 3:2 ratio. (Since there is no reason for this size difference, we're going to recommend sticking to the uniform proportions.) The shield is only described as a 'rococo design' of argent white silk, while the grapes and oak leaves/acorns are supposed to be rendered in 'natural colors'. The banner at the bottom is only described this way, '...shall be a white streamer, cleft at each end, bordered by a band of gold within fine brown lines, and upon the streamer in dark blue block letters shall be the motto..." You could design a totally different banner and as long as it met this standard, I suppose it would legally be the Connecticut state flag. 

The wording of the 1897 law wasn't quite clear enough and was updated in 1990, but it still didn't fix the issues above. Can you find the differences between the two?

The seal actually looks pretty good in application seen below carved into the Capital Building in Harford, and inside embroidered into the carpet. Designer types will quickly notice the differences in the banner, odd how loose these flag requirements are, no? Maybe someday a state will have a branding department. 

Connecticut State Seal Carved and Embroidered:

So, they have a seal, but what should they do with their flag? Fortunately, Connecticut has a rich history and one particularly interesting story from which I think we can start to build a design. 

The Charter Oak is the state's tree, but that begs the question — what the heck is a Charter Oak? You won't find it listed as any of the varieties of the North American oak because it's not actually a sub-species. The Charter Oak refers to one specific white oak (the quercus alba mentioned in the 1990 law above) that played an integral part in the beginnings of the state. According the state government's site, The Charter Oak was a 12th or 13th century white oak, that at one point in 1687 was the secret hiding place of the state's self-governing charter, preventing it from being captured by the English Governor-General. This oak was unusually large and located on what the English colonists named Wyllys Hyll, in Hartford. 

The Charter Oak:

The Charter Oak, oil on canvas, Charles De Wolf Brownell, 1857. Here's what happened according to ct.gov, "Two English kings, a royal agent, a colonial hero and a candle-lit room are the figures and backdrop in one of the most thrilling chapters of America's legend of liberty. The refusal of our early Connecticut leaders to give up the Charter, despite royal order and the threat of arms, marked one of the greatest episodes of determined courage in our history.

On October 9, 1662, The General Court of Connecticut formally received the Charter won from King Charles II by the suave diplomacy of Governor John Winthrop, Jr., who had crossed the ocean for the purpose. Twenty-five years later, with the succession of James II to the throne, Connecticut's troubles began in earnest. Sir Edmund Andros, His Majesty's agent, followed up failure of various strategies by arriving in Hartford with an armed force to seize the Charter. After hours of debate, with the Charter on the table between the opposing parties, the candle-lit room suddenly went dark. Moments later when the candles were re-lighted, the Charter was gone. Captain Joseph Wadsworth is credited with having removed and secreted the Charter in the majestic oak on the Wyllys estate."

Even if this account is over-blown, you have to admit that this is a good place to start for a symbol worthy of the flag, not to mention early American independence. The tree itself fell during a storm in 1856, and was subsequently made into the desk of the Governor of Connecticut, as well as the chairs for the Speaker of the House of Representatives and President of the Senate. That's pretty cool. The tree also lives on in various scions across Hartford. (Scions are grafts of a desired tree and another plant's working root system.)

The day the Charter Oak Fell:

One of the Charter Oak Chairs:

Looks like we have our symbol, but we have to be careful here. What might work on a quarter (CT's state quarter featured the Charter oak, as well as half-dollars from the 1930s) may not work as well on a flag. I would say that the City of Oakland (CA) flag does about as good of a job as any, in featuring a tree as an icon. 

City of Oakland Flag:

Oddly and crudely drawn, it has a charm that can't be denied. I wouldn't want our flag to be derivative of this, and because it's Connecticut we're talking about here; it should be more refined, almost collegiate in style. Also, even before putting pen to paper, I want to add depth to the Charter Oak concept in some way that references the story. It's a dramatic tale and one that will make for a handsome banner. One with even more meaning and purpose than the grape vines represented in the original flag. 

To tease the final result, here's a rough sketch of initial thoughts. Final flag coming over the next few days or so. (Whenever I can get to it, honestly.) 

Okay, so here's what I did. I wanted to incorporate some element of the Charter Oak into the design, but also wanted the ability to represent other parts of the state. During sketching, I came up with this idea of combining a quill (representing the State Charter being signed) and that of an oak leaf (instead of a feather.) The great thing about the sketch, is that I could also see the leaf, yes representing all the natural wonders of Connecticut, but the river valley in particular. The vein of the quill leaf, and its tributaries do just that albeit with subtlety. This new icon represents the impact of a single act, hiding the charter in the Oak, and how that event helped write the state's future. The colors chosen are for the fall folliage, and the river itself. We'll call it the Charter Oak Quill and call it a day. It's simple. Has meaning. And will make a great new flag for the state.

The 2012 Connecticut State Flag:


Article originally appeared on Graphicology (http://www.graphicology.com/).
See website for complete article licensing information.