Local Vexillology

I love a good flag. Vexillology (the study of flags) combines my passions for history, geography, storytelling, and design. Furthermore, I love locality. The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve learned to appreciate and prioritize deeply knowing and inhabiting one’s space. So, local vexillology represents a special convergence for me. And as such, my curiosity was piqued when my friend Hunter showed me an article in The Portager detailing the City of Kent’s recent efforts to update the city’s flag. The process is already pretty far along, from what I can tell. Still, I appreciate the way that the city is being transparent in this process, with open access to all the different submissions. And I’m very curious to see which flag design they will choose.

There are a number of common themes from the submissions. One of these is the Cuyahoga River, which represents a significant natural feature that also became an historical feature over time. And another common theme is the phrase, “Tree City,” which also represents a natural feature and a historical feature (with one of the nation’s oldest and largest tree care companies having started in Kent). Other recurring themes include the railroad industry, which played a key role in establishing the city of Kent… the city’s role in the Underground Railroad, helping escaped slaves make their way to freedom in Canada… Kent State University… and local animals.

All of the submissions are great, in their own ways. But I thought I’d share my Top Three, just for fun. I didn’t have a role in designing any of them. I just looked at the flags and read their submission notes. So here are the flags I found most intriguing.

The Garster Flag

One of my favorite designs comes from Zach Garster. The lines represent “the convergence of the railroads and river in Kent.” And Garster notes that, “The converging lines intersect to form an 8-pointed star in the middle, symbolizing the north star as shown on quilts as a guide symbol for runaway slaves finding their way to the north on the under-ground railroad.” He cites specific reasons for the colors he chose (which seemed to be a prerequisite for all submissions), but I think they’re pretty self-explanatory. I just like the cleanness and simplicity of this flag, with its salute to the city’s history in an abstract way.

The Hovancsek Flag

Another favorite comes from Mike Hovancsek, featuring a chimney swift on a field of gold. He explains, “The Chimney swift is a bird that has strong historic ties to the Kent area. Dr. Ralph W. Dexter, an ornithologist at Kent State University, studied these unique animals on the main campus from 1937 until his death in 1991. A chimney swift appears on the Kent State University seal to represent leadership. This animal has its presence felt beyond the campus as well. Chimney swifts protect the citizens of this town by flying around the area, eating large numbers of insects as they go. A tower was recently erected near Haymaker Parkway to provide a nesting area for this unique animal.”

Again, I think the best thing going for this flag is its simplicity. I also like the way that it’s unique (I don’t know of many flags featuring this sort of bird). And it prompts a story. It’s another solid submission.

The Crookston Flag

The submission from Kenneth and Bennett Crookston informed me that the original flag for the City of Kent also utilized this “burgee” shape. The green represents the trees and the indigenous mound-building peoples who lived in the area (I like the nod to the Native American history through a simple shape). I also like the way it uses the blue to represent the river and the white to subtly suggest the shape of a “K.” The stars are probably my least-favorite part of this submission, designed to be intentionally ambiguous: maybe representing the two settlements that eventually merged to become Kent, maybe representing the four Kent State students who were killed on May 4, 1970.


Which flag design do you like best? I really do think that any of these flags would be lovely. That said, I’m probably not going to get much further involved in the process. But it was fun to wade into those waters, at least up to my shins for a while.

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