BRUNSWICK — More than a century since Maine replaced its flag, a bill before the Legislature proposes: Out with the old and in with the older.

The bill would bring back the state flag that flew from 1901-1909, featuring a blue star over an evergreen tree, replacing the state’s current flag, which features the state seal on a dark blue background. Proponents argue the earlier does a better job representing Maine. It’s an idea some Midcoasters said they can get behind.

Maine’s 1901 flag, as replicated by the Maine Flag Co. Rep. Janice Cooper is sponsoring a bill to reinstate the 1901 design as the official state flag. Photo by Rep. Janice Cooper)

That state seal features a pine tree with a bull moose resting below it, a star, a fisherman and farmer and the words “Dirigo” and “Maine.” But critics say it’s too hard to see any of that from a distance, and that Maine’s flag looks too much like so many other flags from other states and government agencies.

“I understand the argument of what a flag should be,” said local historian Richard Snow of Topsham. “It should be recognizable from far away, and many states have the state seal on the flag.”

Snow said it would be a nice change, “that we would be able to identify that it came from Maine.”

It’s stark and very simple for 2019, however, and that’s the problem, he said.

“It’s going to take some getting used to because it’s so primitive,” he said. “It looks like it was drawn by a kid.”

The flag looks almost like a quilt piece, as if someone chose the design because they could easily applique it on fabric, which is lovely, said artist Laurie Burhoe of Centre St Arts Gallery in Bath.

The newer flag is beautiful and contains more information about the state, she said. It also looks like it could be a flag for a lot of different places.  

“I like the original one,” Burhoe said. “It’s nostalgic and it’s simple and that’s just my opinion as an artist.”

Whether the current flag meets the criteria for a good flag, Snow said he’s not sure.

“If you want flags to be recognizable by everyone, then people have to have looked at it,” Snow said.

There’s no question which flag Maine should use for flag enthusiast Jeremy Hammond.

“I would definitely go with the proposed 1901 to 1909 flag,” he said. “It’s hard to know if a flag is doing its job or not, but one way to know: Is if the flag is being incorporated into other stuff?”

The Chicago flag, for example, is adored by locals and has made it onto sports team jerseys, he said. Many a skier has a hat adorned with the prominent “C” from the Colorado flag.

Hammond designed the flag for the city of Bath in 2012-13 and sells flags as a hobby through Bath Flag Co. That includes a “First Maine Flag” introduced in November.

Given his hobby, Hammond is familiar with the guidelines by the North American Vexillological Association, (vexillology is the study of flags and flag design)  based on very old but practical design principles.

“The purpose of the flag is for quick and easy identification and it has some encumbrances like it’s reversed on the back side so you want to avoid things like numbers and letters,” Hammond said. “And it’s sticking to a short list of colors and how they’re used with each other, and that’s primarily just to assure enough contrast so that it’s recognizable from a long distance.”

He said he’d hate to see a complete redesign, which usually involves a design-by-committee process. He foresees legislators who would want to incorporate more and more symbols to appeal to various constituents and parties, “but what results is this horrible mess,” he said.

There’s no easy answer for Snow.

“I could go along with it, but it is primitive,” he said of the older flag. “If you’re going to do it, you’ve got to dress it up, put some frills on the edges or something else. If I had one I’d feel like I was going to the Battle of Bunker Hill or something.”

Flags should have a timelessness, Hammond said, related to heritage.

“I think this endeavor at least for me and flag enthusiasts behind it, is more about establishing a permanent flag that is just better than the one that we have because the one that we have is not doing its job,” he argued. “It flies over government buildings and that’s about it.”

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