Minnesota News

Commission slims roster of potential Minnesota flags to 3 designs

A collage of three flags
The three finalists for the Minnesota state flag.
MPR News via State Emblems Redesign Commission

Updated: 6:39 p.m.

The panel picking a new Minnesota flag on Tuesday shrunk the field of finalists from six to three, advancing designs with prominent stars but far different concepts.

The State Emblems Redesign Commission resumed its debate after the slimdown but could meet again Friday, with hopes of reaching a final selection soon. The panel has a hard deadline at the end of the year to pick.

The new design will replace the current flag in May unless the Legislature steps in and rejects the concept, which would take a groundswell of lawmaker resistance.

An elderly man steps up to a panelist table
John Muller, who traveled all the way from Texas to present his finalist flag design, prepares to address the State Emblems Redesign Commission during a meeting in St. Paul on Tuesday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Designers of several flags appeared before the panel earlier in the day, explaining why they chose colors and concepts and what they represent.

John Muller, a Texas resident born in Mankato, made the trip north to make the case for his flag. It shows a North Star at the top, as well as a white wave across the flag separating green and blue.

A flag hangs from a wire.
Mockups of the finalists for Minnesota’s new state flag hang in the Huntington Bank Rotunda at the Mall of America Saturday.
Nicole Neri for MPR News

“The North Star is one of the brightest stars in the sky. It’s used for navigation, it serves as a guiding light. It leads the way,” he said. “I think these are some of the features that exist in Minnesota as well.”

Pete Pitman designed the so called “mirror of the sky” image with his son Todd Pitman.

Two men sit in auditorium chairs
Todd Pitman (right) and his son Peter wait to present their flag design during a State Emblems Redesign Commission meeting in St. Paul on Tuesday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

He said they were inspired by astronomy and the lure of the loon, which is abstract in the design.

“So when we raise this flag, and it’s flying high above Minnesota, it will provide a roadmap for all the nation to see calling out an invitation to follow the loon leaders of the people to follow Minnesota,” Pitman said. “As we aspire to further achievements, expanded opportunity, and a greater good.”

A flag hangs from a wire.
Mockups of the finalists for Minnesota’s new state flag hang in the Huntington Bank Rotunda at the Mall of America Saturday.
Nicole Neri for MPR News

The third has three solid horizontal bars intersecting with a Minnesota-shaped area and punctuated by a white star. It was designed by Andrew Prekker of Luverne, who didn’t appear before the panel.

A spokesperson for him said Prekker was inspired by his time growing up in the state.

“The concept behind my design when it came to creating my flag design, there were three components I focused on: emphasizing the uniqueness of our state, finding the experiences that all Minnesotans share, and turning these elements into a visually pleasing flag,” Prekker said through the surrogate.

A flag hangs from a wire.
Mockups of the finalists for Minnesota’s new state flag hang in the Huntington Bank Rotunda at the Mall of America Saturday.
Nicole Neri for MPR News

No matter what, the new flag will be a departure from the current banner: A replicated state seal on a blue background that has been criticized as both muddled and culturally insensitive.

“I find that folks are very interested and very positive about this change. And I think that the work that we have done is exemplary of a state that is looking to bring together the state in a way that has the voice of Minnesotans,” said state Sen. Mary Kunesh, DFL-New Brighton, and a nonvoting member of the panel. “We've been talking about changing a flag for decades and decades.”

Others predicted disappointment and said they were unimpressed with the remaining options. Commission member Denise Mazone, a designee of the Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage, said there’s nothing special or unifying about the designs.

“There’s no representation, there really truly isn’t unless we’re just talking about the air that everybody breathes, the land we walk on in the lakes that we either fish or swim or look at right? Other than that the North Star,” she said. “Other than that I can’t see anything else that would really unify all of us.”

Earlier this year, the Legislature set up the commission and gave them a responsibility to replace the state’s current flag and seal with ones that “accurately and respectfully reflects Minnesota’s shared history, resources and diverse cultural communities.”

The designs can’t single out a community or person in particular. 

Members have already whittled more than 2,000 flag proposals to six last month. There were fewer seal entries but still robust debate. In the time since, they have discussed possible modifications to the designs and taken them on the road for public feedback.

design of the minnesota state seal
State seal design “L” is displayed on a screen, which omits both the state motto and the year it was admitted to the union.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Members have a deadline at the end of the year to pick new emblems. That flag will take flight in May, barring a legislative veto.

The circular seal often appears on official state letterhead, document stamps and even on building exteriors. It is also the emblem that graces the front of the lectern in the Governor’s Reception Room.

Last week, the panel settled on a concept for an official state seal that includes a loon emerging from a lake and some other features symbolic of Minnesota.

Six designs for state flags.
Six flag designs have been chosen as finalists by the the State Emblems Redesign Commission.
MPR News via State Emblems Redesign Commission

Members refined it in Tuesday’s meeting, voting to give the loon a red eye and to include pine trees and wild rice around the state bird. They dropped stars above the loon that were included in an original design, deciding on a single four-pointed star.

The decisions stirred disagreements over the language in which the state should incorporate its motto. Some argued for adopting the phrase in Dakota, the language commonly spoken when the state was founded and from which Minnesota’s name takes its origin.

“If we are going to include language within the seal, really thinking about the first language of this land, paying respect to that and paying respect to that longer history, and contemporary experience of people who are fighting really hard today to retain our ways of communication,” said commission member Kate Beane, executive director of the Minnesota Museum of American Art.

A man gestures with his hand while another stands by
Illustrator Ross Bruggink, who designed the new state seal finalist and one of the six state flag final designs, talks with commission chair Luis Fitch during a break in the SERC meeting in St. Paul on Tuesday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Others pointed to a state law that contained a nod to French — “L’etoile du Nord” as the translation that appears on the current state seal — and argued the panel lacked authority to switch the language.

“Our motto is in statute as in French,” state Rep. Bjorn Olson, R-Fairmont, said. “When we have a motto, it is in the language that the Legislature has accepted. If you want to change, talk to your representative.”

a woman talks during a meeting
Dr. Kate Beane, executive director of the Minnesota Museum of American Art and citizen of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe of South Dakota, advocates to include Dakota language on the new seal design during a SERC meeting in St. Paul on Tuesday 2023.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

After some debate, the commission opted to leave any reference to Minnesota’s motto — in any language — off the seal.

But it does contain the term “Mni Sóta Makoce” ((minny-SHO-tah mah-COH-chay)), a term for Minnesota with Dakota origin that means land where the water reflects the sky. Some commission members say they fear it will trigger lawsuits or a legislative veto because it could be deemed to be favoring one community over another.

Minnesota’s year of statehood, which is 1858, was also excluded after extensive debate about the necessity for it and the cultural impact of colonization that preceded statehood.