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When Minnesota's new state flag starts flying next year, it will almost certainly incorporate hues of blue and white and the symbol of the North Star.

That imagery rose to the top Tuesday as the State Emblems Redesign Commission winnowed down a list of more than two thousand public submissions for a new flag to six finalists. They also zeroed in on five favorites for a new state seal, gravitating toward representations of snow, the North Star and Minnesota's state bird, the loon.

From those finalists, the commission plans to settle on one design for each early next month to use as the basis of Minnesota's new flag and seal.

"We are distilling a wealth of excellent ideas," Luis Fitch, the chair of the commission, said at the start of a public hearing, which stretched late into the evening. "We are in the process of crafting — not just choosing — a new flag and seal."

The commission was created by the Legislature last session to take on the daunting task of redesigning the flag and the seal in a matter of months to meet a Jan. 1 deadline. Neither has been substantially redesigned since first created more than 100 years ago.

A similar commission in Utah had more than a year and a half million dollars to aid in the effort to redesign their state flag.

"This is a big job, this is a big, heavy load," said commission member Denise Mazone. "I want to get it right."

Secretary of State Steve Simon checked the votes on the back of state seal designs.
Secretary of State Steve Simon checked the votes on the back of state seal designs.

Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

The commission was flooded last month with submissions from the public, which included designs with wintery imagery, pine trees and representations of the state's streams and 10,000 lakes. A few people submitted the current state flag, indicating they don't want change.

But change will come. The finalists favored by commission members signal a dramatic shift in imagery from Minnesota's long-standing state flag and seal, which have been criticized for decades as offensive to the state's tribal communities.

The seal, which is at the center of the state flag, shows a white settler plowing a field in the foreground while a Native American man rides on horseback into the sunset. Others have criticized the flag as poorly designed and too similar to other state flags.

Commission chair Luis Fitch started the discussion of the highest-ranked flag designs, seen behind him at Tuesday’s meeting.
Commission chair Luis Fitch started the discussion of the highest-ranked flag designs, seen behind him at Tuesday’s meeting.

Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

The commission favored submissions that followed key design principles, including the use of only a few distinctive colors and imagery that can be recognized from a distance and drawn from memory. Blue, white, green and yellow were the colors used in the final flag designs.

"A good flag gets used a lot," said Lee Herold, who owns Herold Flags in Rochester and knows which designs are popular with customers. "When they come in, you can see in their eyes if this means something to them and they are buying something special."

The final design must also consider the state's history while representing "Minnesota's enduring values and aspirations," according to a design brief from the commission.

Commission members saw the North Star as the most unifying symbol for the state. Many flag submissions also included loons or other state symbols, such as the lady slipper flower or the pine tree. But they didn't make it into the finalists for the flag, in part because those symbols carry less meaning in certain regions of the state.

"While loons may be beautiful, and lady slippers might be beautiful and pines might be beautiful, they don't represent us down here," said Anita Gaul, a commission member and community college history instructor from southwest Minnesota. "The people of rural Minnesota, the southern part, might favor a different design other than loons."

However, the top vote-getter for state seal features a loon, which members thought was appropriate as a symbol for the official seal.

Commission members don't have to take any design as is. They can tweak the final flag and seal design, potentially incorporating an idea from another design that didn't make the final cut.

As they narrowed down the field, multiple members said whatever they choose must be relevant for years to come. They warned against choosing a design that looks too modern.

"In 100 years, will this still look good?" asked Secretary of State Steve Simon, a member of the commission. "If it screams 2023, do we want to do it?"

The new flag will start flying on May 11, 2024 — Statehood Day — unless the Legislature choses to veto their design.