Some people think Seattle’s current flag doesn’t quite do the city justice. Among them is Ted Kaye, a Pacific Northwest-based vexillologist — someone who studies flags — who recently challenged Seattle to adopt a better design for its banner.
He said Seattle’s rather complex flag — with its seal of Chief Sealth and its squiggly water lines — fails to fulfill the primary purpose of a flag: to be instantly recognizable from a distance. Further, the presence of lettering and a seal breaks two of the five key flag design rules posited by the North American Vexillological Association.
Just for fun, and because cities around the country (including Spokane!) are considering adopting better-looking ones, we asked people last month to send in their ideas for a Seattle flag.
Dozens of people responded, from professional flag designers to children with crayons. Even people living outside of Seattle got in on the action. Some submitted multiple designs; others, only one. Some included detailed explanations for the colors and symbols chosen; others attached only their names.
Chief Sealth’s portrait
The inclusion of the city’s seal is a point of contention: Seattle historian Fred Poyner IV argues that it’s important to keep Chief Sealth on the flag, while Kaye, the vexillonnaire, says seals don’t make good flag design.
The Suquamish and Duwamish chief’s profile has been the city’s official seal since the 1930s. It showed up in a lot of submissions, indicating many readers agreed with Poyner that the emblem is “a lasting tribute to the Suquamish chief and local indigenous people.”
Andrew Burton, a Harborview Medical Center nurse, said his flag is intended to capture “our city’s unique geography, native heritage, and egalitarian aspirations.” The flag he submitted depicts Seattle as two green squares nestled between the white zigzags of the Olympics and Cascades surrounded by the blue water of Puget Sound and Lake Washington.
“North Seattle, with Green Lake, can be seen above the city seal. Below, the Duwamish River can be seen separating West Seattle from SODO — creating an equal sign,” he wrote. “Chief Seattle, a tribute to Seattle’s Duwamish ancestry, lies over Downtown Seattle. Green and blue are predominant, a reflection of Seattle’s leadership in environmental stewardship.”
Blue and green, emeralds, raindrops, animals and the Space Needle
Blue and green dominated most color palettes, nodding to water and evergreen trees or the Emerald City nickname, and, for some, the city’s love of its sports teams.
William Easton surrounded a green isthmus representing Seattle with ribbons of blue: Puget Sound and Lake Washington. He described the layout as simple but, given the symbolism, “quite provocative.”
A number of designers also included Native American elements, mountains (whether realistic or simply as triangles), emeralds and raindrops.
Garry Kampen used a canoe, white triangles and Chief Sealth’s profile in the face of a full moon. He said in an email that his version was crude but, if done right, could be a compromise between those who want the Chief Sealth seal on the flag and those who don’t. It’s “something a child could draw,” he wrote.
Seattle’s Emerald City nickname also showed up in more literal ways, with depictions of the gemstone floating in the middle of mostly blue motifs. The Space Needle was a popular choice as well.
A few designs featured animals that the artists felt represent the city.
Jess Morgan, of Bainbridge Island, used clip art to show one of Seattle’s beloved, and endangered, resident orcas leaping into the air.
In an email, Morgan wrote, “I chose to divide the background of the flag with a diagonal line to symbolize the hilly terrain of the city. The teal section represents Puget Sound, while the white represents Mount Rainier. The orca, straddling the division, symbolizes the city’s environmentalist history and links to both land and sea. It is facing upward and to the left, symbolizing optimism and a spirit of discovery, as well as the city’s northwestern location. (Some may also interpret this as a symbol of Seattle’s left-leaning politics, but that is a coincidence.)”
Needles, RVs and weed
Of course, a few smart alecks suggested the best symbols for Seattle were RVs, garbage, hypodermic needles, a hammer and sickle on a rainbow flag, weed, money or developers “butt-kicking” senior citizens out of the city.
Stephen and Mahina Hawley collaborated on a tongue-in-cheek effort: An S (for Seattle) in front of the Space Needle, forming a dollar sign “in a nod to the city’s entrepreneurial spirit and boom-and-bust history, from the ‘sons of the profits’ and the Klondike Gold Rush up to the modern-day Amazon technopolis, as well as a reference to how expensive it’s become to live here.”
Other entries defied categorization. In addition to the popular Mount Rainier feature, one designer added a dash of red to recall plaid in a tribute to the city’s role as the birthplace of grunge, a tree to represent the logging industry and stripes through the sky to represent aerospace.
In the middle of Jordan Barr’s flag, a yellow circle “represents the city’s inclusion and unity, along with the idea that Seattle is the epicenter of the PNW (reinforced by the intersection of the mountain ranges and the city). It additionally represents the underrated West Coast sunsets that the city enjoys.”
Samuel McKittrick has a gilded cogwheel — with seven cogs to represent the seven hills and districts of the city — as well as a peace pipe to pay “homage to Chief Seattle, the city’s namesake, and as a wider and more general symbol of peace and goodwill, as is stated in the city’s slogan.”
Joshua Melmon, a Seattle high school student, created a swallowtail flag, a shape often used for nautical flags, to honor the city’s maritime heritage. “It’s a distinctive flag shape for a unique city!” he said. “Hopefully, I was able to capture it in an elegant flag design that my fellow Seattleites could be proud of!”
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan has indicated she’d be open to a redesign of the flag, saying through a spokesperson that “the most beautiful city in America should have the most beautiful, well-designed city flag in America.”
Seattle Times news producer Laura Schinagle contributed to this report.