If your initial reaction to the six finalists for our next Minnesota state flag was "meh," give it time. You might just get to "marvelous."
My own sentiments about the designs have evolved after feeling underwhelmed at first glance. Like other Minnesotans, I found them too childish. Too corporate. Too logo-y.
And allow me to say my piece about the lack of a loon, pine tree or lady's slipper on any of the Top 6. These images were deemed too North Woods, and thereby not inclusive, by some members of the 17-member flag commission who hail from the southern and more agricultural part of the state.
"I've never seen a loon in southern Minnesota," remarked Rep. Bjorn Olson, R-Fairmont, at the panel's Nov. 21 meeting.
But these things are quintessentially Minnesota. They are our official state bird, state tree and state flower, and deservedly so. They are icons that immediately connect us to this wondrous place. Most of us would feel proud to fly a flag with a loon because that bird with its haunting call symbolizes our cherished lakes and vast wilderness, even if we happen to live in a city condo. No offense to southern Minnesotans, but a picture of a soybean wouldn't stir the souls of most Minnesotans the way a loon or red pine could.
That said, I'm warming up to the final designs.
Are they simple? Yes. That is, well, by design.
"The flag should be so simple that a child can draw it from memory and can be easily recognizable from a distance," reads the design brief adopted by the commission months ago, before the first drawing was submitted. It's not surprising that voting members are gravitating toward clean, uncluttered representations, because simplicity is a cardinal rule of what makes a good flag.
And remember, our flag on many days will be rippling in the wind, so that's another reason the design should be simple and bold. Too much detail could be lost when the flag is fluttering on high from a pole.
A fun party trick in recent days has been to pull up the Top 6 on my phone and poll friends and random strangers on their thoughts. There's nothing like a state flag redesign to prove the old axiom that opinions are like noses — everybody has one.
Aside from strong repulsion toward some designs, I also encountered appreciation for details or symbolism I failed to see on my own. Today I can easily defend the notion that all six are a stark improvement from the current flag. Come at me.
I'll grant that, as many others have observed, design F2100 resembles a credit union logo. But it's certainly simple — my 6-year-old could draw it with crayons. And the symbolism of lush land, rivers, sky, and perhaps snow is easy to grasp. No question, the North Star is beaming brightly.
This design by Ojibwe contemporary artist Sarah Agaton Howes is not only pretty, it contains my favorite depiction of the North Star. I'm not sure what the green plants represent. Are they trees or buds? Who cares! On social media, Howes indicated that her flag designs (she submitted three) refer to water, the North Star and "our beloved woods." The yellow stripes represent tribal nations and white stripes signify Minnesota's 87 counties.
Behold the star-flake. The pattern borrows elements from Ojibwe and Dakota star blankets, Nordic Fair Isle sweaters, barn quilts and the State Capitol rotunda, according to the submission from designer Ross Bruggink. The flag as a whole is symmetrically pleasing and distinctive. Bruggink wrote that the eight-pointed star brings to mind a snowflake, "reflecting our climate and cultural resiliency." This is about as Bold North as it gets. The colors, however, are a little too cartoonish for my taste, and I would prefer the shades of blue and green favored by Howes.
It looks like a flag, it flies like a flag, it will flutter like a flag. This design by Andrew Prekker won me over for its simplicity and timelessness, and dare I say, tradition. But it's also rife with meaning. My mom pointed out that the navy blue shape occupying the left half of the flag resembles the outline of Minnesota, which I associate with strength. The white, green and blue stripes conjure up images of snow, woods and prairie grasslands, and water.
Here's another winning North Star/snowflake combo, one that creator Brandon Hundt calls a "snow star." It's a gorgeous emblem that I would not only fly from a flagpole, but wear on a T-shirt. In a web post, Hundt explained that the blue represents our Dakota name ("sky-tinted water"), our abundant lakes, and the Mighty Mississippi. The gold represents the "rich resources of the land." The snowflake is for winter, which we embrace with ruggedness and a sweater. Like the star-flake in F1154, its shape is based off the eight-pointed star seen on the rotunda floor of the State Capitol. (You can also spy four hidden M's.)
I've gotten whiplash from how severely my attitude has swung in response to this unusual design. It was befuddling at first, too abstract and trendy, but I have come to appreciate its distinctive, mirrored swirls. They look like the concept of bdote, the confluence of two waters, such as the joining of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers to which the Dakota trace their origins. Artist Todd Pitman wrote in his submission that his flag "pays tribute to Minnesota's diverse and dynamic landscape with wisps of snow clouds and aurora reflected by pristine and bending waters, and the guiding four-pointed north star inspired by the symbols and astronomy of Dakota and Ojibwe tribes." The best part? The swirls also look like two loons. Channeling Bob Ross, Pitman told MPR News that was "a happy accident."
We could have a winner by Jan. 1, and I would be honored to wave any of these six flags. But my bet's on F944. Minnesotans will take our loon any way we can.