Flag Post: A Very Orbit Independence Day 2016

mural of American flag painted on exterior brick wall

Mural, Lawrenceville

On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
‘Tis the star-spangled banner, O! long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

The Star-Spangled Banner (second verse), Francis Scott Key

artwork with American flag and news clippings, Clarion, PA

Public art, Clarion

Wooden shipping pallet painted like an American flag

Shipping pallet flag, North Side

Oh sure, the world looks at we, the bloggerati, and just sees the obvious glory. But let me tell you something: blogging is more than just lavish parties, sleazy hangers-on, “making it rain,” and bath salt benders–it’s hard work! Why, who do you think is out of the house at 10 a.m. on a Sunday morning, gears cranking while sunlight warms his wind-tousled hair, obsessively searching high and low* for the next breaking story? Not you–I’ll tell you that much. Why, you’re probably doing something fun and relaxing while getting some light aerobic exercise! And who’s working his index fingers to mere nubs hunt-and-pecking to research the national anthem while you sit on your keister and surf the Internet? This is the cross we bloggers bear.

Neon American flag in glass block window of brick building

Neon flag with glass block frame, Strip District

glass storefront windows for former pizza shop, Homestead, PA

Yellow, white, and blue flag, (Former) pizza shop, Homestead

Of the many rewards blogging provides, the excuse to look up odd reference points like the verses of our national anthem is one that goes unheralded–un-spangled, if you will. Reading the full set of lyrics (there are four original verses written by Francis Scott Key, plus one more added by Oliver Wendell Holmes during the Civil War), it’s nice to see that the song actually has some real heart and poetry to it.

It’s quite a lovely and unexpected bit of verse from a tune that is, at best, overplayed, and at worst, a nail-biting one-two of plodding drudgery preceding the inevitable scene-chewing high wire act in the penultimate line. The song (and each verse in its full form) has a Sunday morning coming down conclusion in the good-on-paper, but now tainted-by-jingoism cliché The land of the free and the home of the brave.

Child's painting of American flag on painted plywood

(Former) storefront, Ambridge

Mural detail showing waving abstract American flag with many other design elements including dice, city skyline, men, flowers, etc.

Park’n’ride mural (detail), Wilkinsburg

The American flag can be a lot to take in–both visually and symbolically. It’s not the most aesthetically-rewarding vehicle out there, but we prattled on enough about this in last year’s flag post. What is exciting is how many citizens choose to construct their own versions of the flag. Here we see them painted on wood, built from shipping pallets, recycled from the lathe of a plaster wall, as a mural over a parking lot, and fixed into a waving position in the chain link fence by a steel mill. Donald Trump would have us believe that America is no longer great, but it’s pretty obvious that plenty of Americans still feel like there’s something to celebrate.

homemade American flag made from painted wooden slats, Pittsburgh, PA

Front porch, South Oakland

American flag made from red, white, and blue plastic pieces inserted into chain link fence, U.S. Steel/Edgar Thomson Works, Braddock, PA

Chain link and garland flag, U.S. Steel/Edgar Thomson Works, Braddock

* At least, everywhere along the bicycle trails.

Flag Post: A Very Orbit Independence Day

detail of door painted like the American flag, Pittsburgh, Pa.

Shur-Fine America, Bloomfield

From the mountains to the prairies and from an alley in Bloomfield all the way to a men’s room in Bloomfield, it’s Independence Day in America (aka “The Fourth of July”) and we’re going to celebrate that with a flag post.

We see a lot of American flags this time of year, and that’s no easy experience for the eyes. Red, white, and blue are not colors that naturally look great together–at least, not when served up in the kind of equal doses Old Glory delivers. So for this amateur vexillologist, it can be a challenging holiday. It’s a blitzkrieg to the corneas, a D-Day for the optic nerve, and no laughing matter for the vitreous humor.

Graphically, we’d be a lot better off with just the red and white stripes or just the white stars on the blue field. We know The Orbit wields no small amount of international influence. Fortunes have been made and men (yes: and women) destroyed with the simple addition of key tag or a righteous repost. But a rebranding of The United States of America may be out of even this blog’s enviable powers.

So what are we to do? It’s our flag and whatever one thinks of it symbolically, it’s one of the great constants in any American’s existence. We at The Orbit find that the flags rendered by actual American hands have a whole lot more charm and humanity than their perfect (if cheap) cousins that show up on doorsteps and grave markers, waving at parades and discarded or packed-away by Summer’s end.

Through absolutely no forethought or planning, almost all of these flags were picked up when we thought we were photographing something else.  Super fans may cry “rerun!” but, c’mon–there’s good new stuff here! We’ll brand this a six-month “roll-up” to highlight some stories may be not everyone got to the first time. Happy birthday, America!

American flag made out of wooden fence

Fence flag, Highland Park

We came across this fine flag when we reported on Chet’s Tiny Backyard Dream World last month. Aside from the fact that Chet created this piece from old fence posts, I love that it both ended up slanted at this odd trapezoidal angle, and that it only has nine stripes and thirty stars. There is something so slyly seditious (if, likely, unconscious) about having patriotic art that is factually incorrect.

American flag made from popsicle sticks

Popsicle stick flag, Munhall [photo: Lee Floyd]

Lee sent in this photo of a flag constructed of painted (?) popsicle sticks hours before going to press, so we frankly don’t have time to get all the details on it. What we do know is that just like Chet’s, the popsicle stick flag eschews the standard 13 stripes/50 stars arrangement in favor of a more loose interpretation. Whatever the artist’s intention, we like what we’re seeing from this American!

American flag sticker, scratched and graffiti'd

Sonny’s Tavern, Bloomfield

This flag begs the question: Which is more (or less) patriotic? To paste an American flag sticker above the urinal of a men’s room in a dive bar or to (fail to) properly remove/destroy it? Are all representations of the flag sacred?

American flag behind cypress bushes

Cypress flag, Highland Park

We came across this interesting flag/hedge combination when we were in Highland Park photographing the Heidi Houses back in May. The owner/tenant of this house used a huge flag to cover the entire front porch of the house, draping it between the gutter and scraggly cypress bushes. Like the men’s room above, this is a very questionable way to honor America. I love how the unmistakable red and white stripes blast out out from behind the green shrubs.

In retrospect, this photo‘s red, white, and green would have made an excellent inclusion in our Italian Colors story (and inevitable sequel!) from a while back. Magari la prossima volta.

exterior wall of a former V.F.W. painted like the American flag, Pittsburgh, Pa.

(Former) V.F.W., Bloomfield

All right–we did a whole story on the murals of the Bloomfield V.F.W. a couple months back, so this one you’ve pretty much seen before. But not this side and not from this angle! I had to climb out on a wall, leaning back against the top of an eighteen-wheeler at the Shur-Save loading dock to get any shot of this, the only side of the V.F.W. that just has flag painting (and no representational war fantasy). Also notable here is the odd choice to paint the flag on its end–with the stars at the bottom and the stripes at the top. Whatever that was about, the veterans obviously wanted big flag and they got it–covering three sides of the building. And then the club closed. Sigh.