There are no fans of Lexington’s city flag in Coleman Marshall’s eighth-grade history classes at Lexington Christian Academy.
The white flag with the city’s seal in the center does little to stir civic pride.
It violates all principles of good flag design, Marshall’s students said.
“Our current flag is just a stamp, it’s a seal,” Parker Stewart said.
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“If a kid doesn’t understand the meaning, then it shouldn’t be a flag,” Gracie Hancock said.
Gracie and Parker were among 125 eighth-grade LCA students who participated in a unit to redesign Lexington’s city flag. The students presented five flag designs to the Lexington Urban County Council at its Dec. 6 meeting.
Councilwoman Amanda Bledsoe, who helped Marshall get the student’s presentation before the council, said after the December meeting that she would like to put the issue of a new flag into a council committee when the council returns from its winter break in January.
Lexington Christian Academy students aren’t the only ones who think Lexington’s city flag needs a do-over. A group of Lexington firefighters also has proposed several new flag designs.
As part of a leadership training course at Fire Station 5 on Woodland Avenue, the firefighters watched a Ted Talks video by Roman Mars on poor city flag design. Mars hosts a podcast called “99% Invisible.”
Mars’ Ted Talks video has been viewed nearly 3 million times. It has prompted South Bend, Ind., to change its flag. In Kentucky, a proposal to change the city of Bowling Green’s flag has gained traction but has not been taken up by the city. There are groups on Reddit that are pushing for a new Kentucky state flag.
“We’re watching it and we were shocked when Lexington’s flag was shown as an example of a bad flag,” said Richard Carlin, the firefighter who spearheaded the city flag redesign.
But the firefighters nearly missed it because few knew what Lexington’s city flag looked like. Fortunately, one particularly observant firefighter caught it. (It’s at the 9:50 mark in the video)
“My family has been in public safety either as firefighters or police officers since 1929,” said Andy Carter, a Lexington firefighter. “We never noticed the flag.”
Most Lexington residents don’t know the city’s flag either.
Marshall and LCA art teacher Kerry Cayse, who worked with Marshall on the flag project, asked dozens of people in Lexington’s downtown whether they could describe the city’s flag this fall.
“We only found one person who could tell us what the flag looked like,” Cayse said.
But the man admitted he had insider information.
“He worked at the city government building,” Marshall said.
Lexington’s flag is what vexillologists — those who study flags — call an “SOB” or “seal on a bed sheet.” Seals were meant for stationery, not flags, flag designers say.
The North American Vexillological Association, an association dedicated to flag design, lists five key principles of good flag design:
▪ Keep it simple
▪ Use meaningful symbols
▪ Use two to three basic colors
▪ No letters or seals
▪ Be distinctive or be related, such as relating a city flag to a state flag
The design should be so simple that a child could reproduce it. Chicago’s city flag follows all the rules, vexillologists say.
And it’s everywhere.
The white flag with blue horizontal stripes on the top and bottom and red six-pointed stars in the center is flown on nearly every city building. It’s on police cars. Design elements of the Chicago city flag have been converted to souvenirs.
“At a Chicago firefighter’s funeral, the Chicago city flag, not the United States flag, was draped over the casket,” Carlin said.
The firefighters came up with several possible designs in February. But because 2016 was an election year, the group decided not to pursue the issue until after the November general election. After hearing about the LCA presentation, they sent the designs to Bledsoe.
“This doesn’t have to be our designs,” Carlin said. “There are a lot of very creative and artistic people in the city of Lexington.”
Marshall agreed. Opening the discussion to the entire community would be a great way to get more ideas, he said.
Marshall decided to have the flag design unit after he watched a September “CBS Sunday Morning” news segment on bad city flag design. Mars’ Ted Talks was featured in the segment.
“I saw the segment and I thought it would be a great project for our civic engagement unit,” Marshall said.
Cayse’s art students produced the final flags. The students researched Lexington’s history in addition to learning about good flag design. Many of LCA’s winning five designs were based on similar themes. Those themes and colors include: blue for the Bluegrass and the University of Kentucky, and green for its agricultural heritage.
For example, the flag that Gracie Hancock and two other students produced has a blue background, a green cross, three yellow stars and a horseshoe in the middle. The blue and the green represent the Bluegrass. The horseshoe represents horse country. The three gold stars represent the first three counties in Kentucky: Jefferson, Fayette and Lincoln counties.
Lexington firefighters designed several flags. One features a white background, a blue horse, and a blue-and-yellow off-center cross that represents Interstate 75 and Interstate 64. The thirteen stars represent the 13 colonies.
Flag design might not seem like a top issue. But it’s important, firefighters and LCA students said.
“Lexington has a lot of issues,” Carlin said. “But this is something that you can use to bring people together and to show Lexington’s rich history.”
Flags can mean a lot, Parker Stewart told the council at the Dec. 6 meeting.
“Lexington needs a flag that does this city justice. Lexington needs a flag that everyone can be proud of,” Parker said. “A flag is not merely cloth and ink.”