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Jackson hopes to brand county with flag

fr jacksonflagWhen it comes to Southerners, there are a few topics that get their blood pressure elevated — and one of those topics is flags.

They represent everything from historical ties, bloodshed, peace, pride and Nascar. They’re flown everywhere from government buildings to front porches to Wal-Mart.


Which is why the Jackson County commissioners were left scratching their heads last January when a 13-year-old boy asked them why Jackson County didn’t have one of its own.

The boy is David Hopkins II. He said he noticed last year during a Christmas parade in Sylva that Swain County had a flag in the procession but not Jackson County. It prompted him to go before the commissioners, which put in motion the mission to find Jackson County a proper flag.

“It’s just important to have a flag,” Hopkins II, the young, aspiring Eagle Scout said. “If somebody looks at your county, they want something to remember it by; something that represents the county; something to show them who you are.”

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But, apparently the identity of Jackson County and that distinct manifestation on a flag is already eliciting varied responses. Hopkins’s II father, who describes himself as his son’s glorified chauffeur, carting him from boy scout meetings to guitar lessons to flag meetings, already has different ideas about what the flag should look like than his son.

Shortly after one of his many meetings with commissioners and Jackson County officials, David Hopkins II produced a simple, but elegant, pencil sketch of the Sylva courthouse silhouette — what he says should be the flag of Jackson County.

But, his father says that may be too simple and has plans to integrate more elements into sketch his son has already made. The elder David Hopkins wants to add the complex Jackson County seal in one corner — which he said was at the behest of the commissioners; a decal for each one of the seven Cherokee clans around the border — for which he said he has received permission from Chief Michell Hicks; and, for a touch of flare, blooming flowers that appear seasonally in front of the courthouse.

The father David Hopkins said some other interested parties have contacted him recently about incorporating something to honor the Scottish ancestry into the flag design. But he laments the quickly vanishing space on the fabric banner.

“And, everyone else wants to put something up there, too, but we don’t have a lot of room to make them all happy,” David Hopkins said. “We can’t please everyone on it.”

However, the most important people to please may be the future Jackson County flag committee.

Stemming from the son’s and father’s persistence, Jackson County officials choose to form a flag committee, rather than give sole designing rights to David Hopkins II and his father. The committee will vet proposals and designs from Jackson County youth.

Jackson County Manager Chuck Wooten, who has taken charge of the project from the county government side, lamented how a flag is needed, and sooner than later.

“We have a North Carolina flag, United States flag, and even a Jackson County Sheriff’s flag,” Wooten said, enumerating the flags on display at the county’s complex in Sylva. “But, we don’t have a county flag.”

Its been 163 years since the county was founded and shouldn’t have to go another one without a flag. For example, when county leaders go to statewide meetings of the Association for County Commissioners, there’s an empty spot where Jackson’s flag should be.

Wooten said he is currently coordinating with art instructors at Smoky Mountain High School, Western Carolina University and Southwestern Community College to prompt their students to design flags for consideration.

Wooten said the committee would pick several finalists from all the submissions, including the one David Hopkins and his father arrive at and then pass those along to the commissioners for a vote. The first meeting of the committee would probably be this winter sometime, he said.

“[David Hopkins] and his son are really interested in this whole idea,” Wooten said. “But we probably need to be more inclusive rather than let one person decide what the flag is going to be.”

Yet, even if the future Jackson County flag isn’t the final design of the David Hopkins II and his father, at least one aspect of the young boy’s design seemed to strike a chord with Wooten and others interested in the adoption of a flag: the sketch of the courthouse.

George Frizzell, head of special collections at Western Carolina University, said although during the years other symbols, such as mountain ridges and county boundaries, have been used to represent Jackson County, the commanding courthouse on the hillside is featured most prominently nearly everywhere in Jackson County since its construction in 1914 — from tourism brochures, newspaper mastheads and historical publications to road sings.

“You often see people standing in the middle of the road trying to get a picture of it,” Frizzell said. “It compels you to keep looking upwards.”

Wooten echoed Frizzell’s remarks. He said the courthouse might be just the right representation of Jackson County, while something like the Jackson County seal – although many county flags simply chose a color scheme and put their seal on the flag – may be a bit too much information.

“Take a look at our seal sometime,” Wooten said. “It’s got a lot of great information going on, but it’s really busy. If you ride by it at 55 miles per hour, you’ll just see a blur.”

Finding that balance between a design that conveys enough meaning and one that can be understand from the highway, may be the fine line the committee and the amateur flag designers have to consider.

Robert Williams, director of the House of Flags Museum in Columbus, said that is the art of Vexillology – flag design in laymen’s term – in a nutshell. It’s part art and part science, he said.

“Some flags are useless because, while they may be beautiful, they communicate nothing.” Williams wrote in an email. “Others are equally useless because they try to communicate way too much.”

He said a well-designed flag demonstrates something about the community or organization over which it flies by employing the use of colors, shapes and arrangements as a vehicle for that message. And, as overseer of a collection of more than 300 flags, he said, most importantly, every flag has a story to tell, and new flags should carry on that mission.

Whether or not the story of Jackson County’s future flag will begin with the trip of a young David Hopkins II before the commission, or that of another young resident of Jackson County, will soon to be decided.

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