ST. PAUL, Minn. — Hanging outside the Pitman family's home is the Minnesota state flag of their dreams—a design the father and son duo created together that was chosenby the commission tasked with redesigning both the flag and state seal.
They call it the "Mirror of the Sky" flag, depicting symbols for the aurora and the North Star.
"I've always thought that Minnesota deserved a better flag, a better brand. And when the legislature decided to go ahead with his project, I said well, let's give it a shot," said Peter Pitman.
He and his son, Todd, together took an idea sketched in Crayola marker on paper and transformed it into a design that resonated with the State Emblems Redesign Commission, which last weekto just six designs.
"Eventually we arrived at something that we thought was a really good representation of the aurora," Todd explained. "The aurora such a unique element of living in Minnesota. it can't really be seen and much of the rest of the country."
"I think it's a visual representation of all of the people of Minnesota," he added.
But the pair believes their design evokes much more and people can draw their own meaning from it. It also as a star—a nod to the state motto, "L'Etoile du Nord"—and shades of blue to represent Minnesota's many bodies of water.
He also noted the aurora imagery can be interpreted as two loons reflecting one another. The state's bird is a notable missing element from the flag finalists that many Minnesotans had hoped would be included.
"I refer to that as a happy accident. While we were working on the flag, we discovered that shape and we decided to accentuate it a little bit to maybe not look exactly like a loon, but to call to mind the essence of one," Todd said during an interview Friday.
The commission opened a public comment period online, which ended Friday, so residents could share their feedback on the finalists. Then members will go over those comments at its next meeting on Tuesday to help inform their next steps.
The panel can tweak colors and elements captured in the top choices. But they describe the finalists as providing the framework for the new design, which must be submitted in a report to the legislature by January 1.
The new flag and state seal will debut on Statehood Day on May 11.
"It's difficult to create universal and inspiring imagery that speaks to that many different communities. And Minnesota is a vast tapestry of many different communities," Todd Pitman said. "I think what the mirror of the sky flag does is inspire that sense of coming together."
'A flag that we can all feel good about'
The DFL-led legislature this year established the commission to redesign the state flag and state seal, which is on the current flag. Supporters of changing it say the flag violates the principles of "good flag designs," determined by flag experts, and condemn its imagery depicting a Native American riding off into the distance as a settler tills the land.
That drove Sarah Agaton Howes to submit her own ideas to the commission. Her flag is one of the finalists.
"I just feel really fortunate to be able to highlight that Minnesota is like a really diverse place. There's lots of people here. And the bottom line for me, of course, is that we change the flag to represent everyone in a flag that we can all feel good about," she told WCCO. "But also that I really think it'd be really powerful to have a Native designer create a new flag for a flag that was really meant to tell the story of us not existing anymore."
It has a prominent North Star shown in "Ojibwe loom style," she explained, and a symbol for a pine tree. Along the sides, there are small stripes representing each of Minnesota's counties and the 11 federally recognized tribal nations.
She said she was stunned her design made the final cut out of hundreds of other options, but is excited to be part of the process of re-imagining a key state symbol.
"I think it's good for us to talk about: why does something need to change? Why does all of this matter at all? I think that that is good to have some of those uncomfortable conversations," she said.
To learn more about the other flag designers, the commission's website includes design statements for all of the finalists.
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