A commission tasked with redesigning Minnesota's state flag knocked half the finalists out of the competition Tuesday, advancing three distinct designs that all bear an image of the North Star.

The three other finalists fall away as the State Emblems Redesign Commission races toward a Jan. 1 deadline to finalize a new design for Minnesota's flag and the official seal of government. The commission plans to meet Friday to review changes to each of the top three designs and potentially choose its finalist.

"This design should represent the attributes of Minnesota, because other people don't know about them," said John Muller, an 83-year-old Air Force veteran who was born and raised in Mankato and now lives in Texas. He flew in to testify on his design before the commission. "I tried to get something that would tell the story of Minnesota."

Muller's flag, chosen as a top three finalist, includes an eight-pointed North Star, a white wave in the center representing winter, and blue above and green below to represent lakes, forests and agriculture.

Another finalist designed by a father-son duo played off the idea of a swoosh of water mirroring the sky. The swooshes also resemble abstract loons, the state's official bird. Todd and Peter Pitman finished the design one evening while watching a Wild hockey game.

"This is one of the best father-son projects we've ever done," Peter Pitman told commissioners.

The other finalist — which got the most support from commission members — shows an abstract shape of Minnesota's borders, with a white North Star at its center. Next to the shape of the state are three stripes, white representing snow, green for nature and blue for water.

"The flag is not meant to be a collection of symbols that are readily identifiable," said Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, a member of the commission. "It's about what is the symbol going forward that we want to identify with Minnesota."

Last week, the commission picked a finalist among the state seal designs, choosing an image of a loon on a Minnesota lake.

Members adopted changes to the final seal design Tuesday, including making the eyes of the loon red and removing the state's official motto — "L'Etoile du Nord," or the Star of the North. Commission members disagreed on whether the motto should be in another language or its original French and decided to leave it off entirely.

The commission also voted to remove from the seal the date and year Minnesota became a state, while adding the Dakota words: "Mni Sota Makoce, which is where Minnesota got its name and means "land where the waters reflect the clouds."

Minnesota should be "thinking about the first language of this land" and "paying respect to that longer history" in its state seal, said commission member Kate Beane, a Dakota woman who spent years as director of Native American Initiatives for the Minnesota Historical Society.

Some members opposed the move, noting state law authorizing the commission says any "symbols, emblems, or likenesses that represent only a single community or person … may not be included in a design" and the change could open the new state seal up to potential legal challenges.

"Do we or do we not want taxpayer dollars defending this decision here?" said Republican Rep. Bjorn Olson, a nonvoting member of the commission. "This is controversial. This is on the line."

The 13-member commission was created by the Legislature last session to come up with a new design for the flag and seal, which have been criticized for decades as offensive to the state's tribal communities.

The seal, which is at the center of the state flag, shows a white settler plowing a field in the foreground while a Native American man rides on horseback into the sunset. Others have criticized the flag as poorly designed and too similar to other state flags that also have a seal at the center.

The public has become deeply invested in the process, submitting more than 2,600 flag and seal designs to the commission and leaving more than 20,000 comments on the final flag and seal design finalists.

If the Legislature doesn't veto the final designs, the new state flag will start flying on Statehood Day — May 11.