A beehive and a mountain range are the prominent features of the design a state task force is recommending to be the new Utah state flag.
The final design, announced Tuesday by the Utah State Flag Task Force, is a combination of two of the top five finalists, submitted by Mark Brooks of Bountiful and Sarina Ehrgott of South Jordan. (Ehrgott works for the state, in the Department of Heritage and Arts.)
Those designs were selected from 5,703 submissions — more than 3,200 from adults and 2,500 from students. The final design takes elements from two of the designs the public ranked highest, the task force members said.
Public support was key in designing the new flag, said Gov. Spencer Cox. “This is the first time in history that we have a flag that has public input. A lot of public input. The public built this flag,” he said.
The final decision won’t be up to the public, but to the Utah Legislature, when it meets in early 2023, whether to approve the design as the official Utah state flag.
At the flag’s center is the state’s symbol, the beehive, a nod to progress and hard work, the task force said. It’s also maintaining the symbolism of the state seal, which is featured in the current state flag.
The beehive is embedded in a hexagon, called a symbol of strength and unity. Below the beehive is an 8-point star, which the task force said recognized the eight Indigenous tribes of Utah.
Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson called the star a symbol of hope, and “a symbol a lot of people who came to Utah, people who lived here before the pioneers and early settlers.”
Henderson added that she has heard criticism that placing the beehive above the star “is somehow taking away from our Native Americans. … To me, that star is the foundation. It’s the first thing that everything else is built on top of.”
The top of the flag takes the traditional blue color also carried over from the current flag. The color, the task force said, points to natural resources, freedom and optimism.
Across the middle, behind the hexagon, is a white mountain range, symbolizing the Wasatch Mountain landscape, as well as peace, the task force said. The red stripe across the bottom, the task force said, is a nod to the red rocks of southern Utah.
During the meeting, state Sen. Jacob Anderegg, R-Lehi, said he got a call from an angry constituent, who thought the task force was “cancel culturing our flag.”
Henderson countered that comment, and said the new flag design is “contributing to our united identity as Utahns.”
“[It’s] a flag that has a little piece of everything for everyone, a flag that everyone can look at and see themselves in,” said state Sen. Dan McCay, R-Lehi, who co-sponsored — with Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton — the original bill to start the process to seek a new flag design.
The proposal followed criticism that the current flag — with the state seal, with its beehive, eagle and draped flags, centered on a blue field — is boring. Vexillologists, people who study flags, refer to the design as an “SOB,” or “seal on a bedsheet.”
The same critics point to Utah’s neighboring states and their iconic flags: Colorado’s big “C,” Arizona’s star-and-sunrise design, and New Mexico’s stylized sun.
McCay celebrated the new design by having it put on T-shirts, which were then taped under the chairs of the task force members at Thursday’s meeting.
The process to design a new flag started in January, with the public invited to submit their ideas. The task force was formed, led by Cox and Henderson, and including McCay, Handy, Anderegg, as well as Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City; Rep. Robert M. Spendlove, R-Sandy; Rep. Elizabeth Weight, D-Salt Lake City, and Jill Remington Love, executive director of the Utah Department of Cultural & Community Engagement.
In September, the Utah Department of Cultural & Community Engagement announced 20 semifinalists, as part of the ongoing “More Than A Flag” initiative — and those semifinalists were unfurled outside the Utah State Capitol.
Utahns were given a month to submit feedback on the semifinalists via an internet form, which asked how well each design represents Utahns. The feedback process drew 44,169 survey responses, according to the Department of Cultural & Community Engagement — and, at Thursday’s meeting, the task force was told the survey reached 90% of the zip codes in Utah.
Those designs were further considered by a staff designer and a freelance designer, and then presented to the task force.
State Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, said the process has spurred people “to remember a little bit of our history, through the exercise of thinking about the flag, since it created conversations about Utah’s history.”