SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who knows more about Utah’s state flag than historian Ron Fox.
After finding a flag in 2011 that was eight years older than the 1911 flag that the Utah Legislature had thought to be the original state flag, he brought the decades-old banner to the attention of lawmakers. Fox had found that the flag from 1911, which had become ubiquitous, had deviated from the original design and vision of the flag he had found from 1903.
For nearly 90 years, Utah had been flying an incorrect version of its own flag.
While the changes were officially corrected soon after his discovery – the blue background of the seal was fixed to white and the year ‘1847’ was moved back to its originally intended location – even bigger changes are in store for the state flag.
On Wednesday, Governor Spencer Cox declared “More Than A Flag” Day in the state, setting his intention to pursue a new look for the state flag. With a group of youngsters who were given a lesson on the flag’s history in attendance at the State Capitol, Cox called the notion of finding a new flag for Utah a “conversation” on the state as a whole.
“It’s a chance to talk about our shared identity, it’s a chance to talk about a new flag as a banner for all of us to rally under and around,” he said during the announcement of the exploratory process.
As part of the initiative, members of the public are invited to submit their original designs and participate in a survey to “identify the themes, colors, and symbols that should be considered on the new state flag” on a webpage built by the Governor’s Office, the State Legislature, and the Department of Cultural and Community Engagement.
Fox, who was on the commission to design Utah’s state quarter in 2007 and will also serve on the state flag committee, says the move to a new design could be indicative of the dramatic changes that Utah is seeing, especially in the economy and culture.
“The governor wants to basically come up with a flag that’s representative of the people today and of the future,” he explains to ABC4.com. “Then we were basically an agricultural state first, we’ve moved into than an industrial state and now we’re a technology state. We’re trying to keep the past, and symbols of the past as well as a more modern look for the future.”
Noting that about half of the states in the U.S. have a flag that amounts to little more than the state seal slapped onto a solid background, Fox believes that Utah wants something else. Something like an iconic, instantly recognizable look found on other state flags. States like Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas all have flags with imagery that immediately makes a connection to the area it represents. Fox believes something similar could come out of the process for Utah.
Such a flag could instill a visible sense of state pride that is seen in other parts of the country, but not so much in the Beehive State, he says.
“There’s not a lot of T-shirts and hats that have the Utah State Flag on it,” he points out. “But in California or Arizona or New Mexico, or there in Texas, you go into people’s houses, and they’ve got their flag and everything all over the place.”
Some people, Fox says, make a connection to Utah with sports imagery, such as Brigham Young University’s iconic Y-oval, the University of Utah’s block-U, or the Utah Jazz’s J-note logo.
Interestingly, Fox states that Cox, a noted Jazz fan (pun intended), started the early process of exploring a possible new flag by reaching out to the Jazz’s design team for ideas on what a new banner could resemble. However, whatever the future flag turns out to be, it’s likely to be much more representative of the entire state than just a Jazz logo on a solid background.
The process of finding a new flag will involve a lot of input from the public as well as a team of professional artists to give it a clean, polished look of whatever elements or colors are deemed appropriate. From there, it’ll be up to the legislature to choose from three final selections and whether or not an official change will be made.
If a new flag is agreed upon, the current flag will be adopted as the Governor’s Flag, Fox says.
While he’s sad to see the flag he unearthed from the archives possibly retired as the official state banner, Fox is confident that whatever happens will be done as thoughtfully, if not more so, than the process of finding the original look.
“I think that the process they’re going through is fair, I think that they’re what they’re trying to do is go to the legislature just like they did in 1911, and 1913, so there’s nothing wrong with it at all,” Fox says. Anything that brings emotion and excitement to the flag and marrying the people to the flag that represents all the people of Utah, it’s a good thing. It’s a very good thing.”