Utah lawmakers select design for new state flag
SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah State Flag Commission has selected a design for a new state flag after reviewing thousands of submissions and public reviews.
The flag features a beehive in a gold hexagon on horizontal bands of blue, white and red. If approved by the Utah Legislature early next year, it will become Utah’s new flag.
Gov. Spencer Cox, who heads the task force, said the current Utah state flag will not be retired and will become the official flag of the governor’s office.
Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, who co-chairs the commission with Cox, said her message to skeptical Utahns is “The ceremonial flag isn’t going away; instead, we’ll fly it on special occasions and official holidays. We can have both. We can celebrate both.”
Designers said they worked to combine the top two designs after receiving public feedback on the task force’s top five.
More than 44,000 Utahns — representing every county — submitted feedback surveys on the 20 semifinalist designs, which were selected from over 5,000 submissions. Each of the top five featured some form of critique.
“For example, southern Utah residents preferred rich, deep reds over oranges to represent the region’s distinctive red rock landscape, while Tribal leaders encouraged stars or other representations of the state’s eight sovereign nations,” the task force said.
“We are extremely pleased with the public response,” David Wicai, director of strategic initiatives at the Utah Department of Cultural and Community Engagement, told KSL.com, noting that almost every single ZIP code in Utah is represented in the feedback. “It seems that Utahns are pretty invested in selecting our next state flag and providing their feedback on what will work and what will represent Utah best.”
Building the new flag
My message to skeptical Utahns: The ceremonial flag isn’t going away; instead, we’ll fly it on special occasions and official holidays.
We can have both. We can celebrate both.
— Lt. Gov. Deidre M. Henderson (@LGHendersonUtah) November 10, 2022
The task force said the foundational blue, similar to the current flag’s background, suggests natural resources, such as lakes and the sky, and principles such as knowledge, freedom and optimism.
The gold rim around the beehive represents strength and unity while the rugged white band represents Utah’s mountain landscapes and peace.
One change from the semifinalist design is the star under the beehive — it represents hope and Utah’s eight sovereign tribal nations.
Finally, the red along the bottom evokes the red rocks of southern Utah.
Lawmakers do not expect to call for a special session in November, as originally planned, to vote on the new flag.
Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton, said the Legislature could meet for a special session while lawmakers are at the Capitol for interim meetings early next year.
Sen. Daniel McCay, R-Riverton, said the task force will hold a presentation next week with more details on this process.
Utah state flag history
Utah’s original flag was created in 1903 to be used at the St. Louis World’s Fair. Utah Gov. Heber M. Wells asked the Daughters of the American Revolution to oversee its creation.
A gold seal was added and the seal was colorized in 1912, and the Utah Legislature officially adopted the changes in 1913.
Technically, Utah’s current state flag was officially adopted in 2011 after an error was introduced in 1922 and went unnoticed for 89 years.
In 2011, John Hartvigsen, a vexillologist, or flag expert, said, “The ‘1847’ was moved from its correct position right below the word Utah on the shield, to a place below the shield. That has been followed by flag manufacturers ever since, even though it’s incorrect.”
A joint resolution fixed the error, moving it back to its correct spot on the shield, which was also colorized. Minor changes to the bald eagle and sego lilies were also made.
A common question that has been presented to the task force so far: Why now?
The task force has a section of its website dedicated to the question, which says task force members “believe that designing a new state flag offers Utahns the chance to talk about who we are now. It’s a chance to talk about bigger questions that get to the heart of our identity now, while still honoring and building upon our history.
Governor Cox wants today to be “More Than a Flag Day” – asking for input on a new state flag. I actually LOVE the commemorative flag with the Beehive and the split red, white and blue colors. Great symbolism and marketable for apparel, stickers etc. Thoughts? @KSL5TV #KSLTV pic.twitter.com/OqN9NfiMWF
— Dan Spindle KSL (@DanSpindleKSL) January 19, 2022
“A new flag can draw upon our history and be a symbol in a bigger initiative to think about what unites us. A new flag could be one step in helping all of us, together, face our pressing issues.”
State leaders have also said the flag should have a simplified design that is more iconic — much like flags in neighboring Colorado and New Mexico.
“Utah is a very distinctive state, but our current flag blends in with many other state flags. We can do better,” McCay said. “The new state flag can be simplified with a design that is both innovative and memorable.”
Gov. Cox has previously referred to the current state flag as an “S.O.B.” or “seal on a bedsheet” — a joke term from the vexillology community for a flag that uses a solid color (most commonly blue) background and the official seal or coat of arms of whatever it is representing as the main feature.
A survey of Utah residents said nearly half are proud of the current flag, but only one-third would wear the flag on clothing or as an accessory.
In the survey, 36% indicated they would support a redesign while 35% wouldn’t. The remaining 29% said they neither support nor oppose a change.
Once a new state flag is chosen, officials said the current state flag will become the governor’s flag and will still be flown publicly. The state seal, which is displayed on the current state flag, will also remain in place.
“This is not an effort, at all, to take away our history,” Handy said. “This is an effort to modernize a symbol of our great state.”
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