Minnesota's new state seal will showcase a loon at its center, the first major re-design of the official stamp of government since statehood in 1858.
Members of the State Emblems Redesign Commission voted Tuesday to move ahead with one design for the seal as their top finalist after thousands of comments of support poured in from members of the public.
"It's truly surreal," said Ross Bruggink, a Shorewood designer who submitted the state seal image chosen by the commission. "There's going to be such a history and legacy attached to these designs. I feel very honored."
His design features the state bird posed atop waves to represent the state's many lakes. Flanked on one side by wild rice — Minnesota's official grain — and pine trees on the other to represent its forests, the loon is "such a great representation of our state, it feels prideful and it's unique to Minnesota," Bruggink said.
The North Star also appears prominently next to the loon to play off the state motto of "L'Etoile du Nord," the Star of the North.
The commission's decision removes four other seal finalists from consideration so members can focus their energy on potential changes to the final design, including whether to include the year Minnesota became a state and if the state's motto should be inscribed in its original French or English. Commission members also discussed whether the loon's eyes should be red.
Over the last week, more than 3,000 Minnesotans submitted comments in support of the design for the state seal. It was also the top pick for the members of the commission, which voted unanimously at a recent meeting to advance it as a finalist.
"It's a clear favorite. It's distinctive, it's versatile," said Isaac Maruyama, a member of the public who testified at the commission's meeting on Tuesday. "I think we can all agree that everything on the table right now is an improvement on what we have."
The 13-member commission was created by the Minnesota Legislature last session to change the design of both the flag and the seal after decades of criticism that the white settler imagery on the state's current emblems is offensive to tribal communities.
The current seal, which is at the center of the flag, shows a white farmer plowing a field in the foreground while a Native American man on horseback rides off into the sunset. The law required the commission to come up with designs that "accurately and respectfully reflect Minnesota's shared history, resources, and diverse cultural communities."
The commission received thousands of public submissions for a new state flag and seal. Members are still trying to narrow down their list of six flag finalists, which have been more divisive with the broader public. The commission received more than 15,000 comments on the state flag designs.
Bruggink also designed one of the flag finalists and is hopeful it will make it to the next round of consideration. All of the flag designs feature the imagery of the North Star, which commission members felt was a broadly identifiable image for the flag.
In choosing a finalist for the flag, Bruggink hopes the commission members follow their own principles laid out for simplicity and a bold design that can be easily reproduced and recognized from a distance.
"The requirements for a seal are different than the flag. The seal invites more complexity and it can be a lot more illustrative," Bruggink said. "I think there's a lot more that can be latched onto through that design; it's not as much a brand exercise as the flag is."
Bruggink said he plans to submit variations on his seal design for the commission for their next meeting. The commission faces a Jan. 1 deadline to present new flag and seal designs to the Minnesota Legislature.