2017 marks the 80th anniversary of the Wichita flag, designed in 1937 by Cecil McAlester. Just a few years ago, few people knew that our city even had a flag. Today, it is everywhere, its bold shapes an emblem of local pride.
A key element is the circular symbol with radiating lines. McAlester suggested the symbol was a hogan, a symbol of home. McAlester’s use of Native American symbolism recalled a time when Wichita still saw itself as part of the Southwest and evoked Native imagery to affirm a sense of history and heritage. The 1920s and 1930s were the heyday of the art and cultural movement known as regionalism, where artists, architects, and writers celebrated the local roots of a given place. The Wichita flag, therefore, was part of a larger movement that included, for example, the “Pueblo Deco” designs at North High and the airport and the rural scenes popularized by the Prairie Print Makers.
What really shows a symbol’s power, however, is how it gets adapted and transformed. The hogan symbol and rays now appear in a wide range of color options. A recent, striking example is the symbol for Wichita LBGT Pride in 2016. In this logo, the red of the rays is replaced with the rainbow flag of the LBGT Civil Rights movement. This, too, ties to the local story. Its designer was Kansas-born gay activist Gilbert Baker, who died earlier this year. This symbol, therefore, is a striking tribute to two expressions of local history that wave in that strong Kansas wind.