The Stars & Stripes Foundation is a nonprofit organization whose purpose is to educate and invigorate public interest about the American flag, and to restore and conserve our nation's icon. The organization was founded by San Francisco-based husband and wife graphic design duo, Kit and Linda Hinrichs.
The centerpiece of this foundation is the Hinrichs family flag memorabilia collection—amassed over 50 years—containing an array of over 5,000 objects including Native American weavings, political posters, toys and games, packaging, photography, folk and fine art, plus protest pieces from various conflicts in our nation's history.
The foundation stages museum exhibitions around the country, delivers lectures to various groups, and creates a variety of publications to educate the public.
Often when my design colleagues learn that I collect American flags, they are intrigued by my interest. I suspect that some wonder, “How varied can the flag be? You’ve seen one American flag and you’ve seen them all.” Only after I have shown them my collection (which now numbers some three thousand objects), do they appreciate the richness of the topic.
My own fascination with the American flag began as a kid growing up in Los Angeles. My family’s only heirloom was a tattered and patched thirty-six-star Civil War flag sewn by my great-great-great aunt Ida Pepperkorn in 1865. My mom considered it so precious that she kept it wrapped in tissue in a sturdy department-store box, and she stored it in the safest place in the house—under her bed. When I was in first grade, my mom allowed me to take this keepsake to school for show-and-tell. Needless to say, Aunt Ida’s flag received more ooohs and aaahs than the run-of-the-mill pet rabbit, horned toad, and bird’s nest. That was my proudest moment in first grade.
Twenty years later, my parents asked me to be the family caretaker of this coveted flag, and I had it framed and hung it in a prominent place in my first New York apartment, where it became a natural conversation piece whenever anyone visited.
My interest in the Stars and Stripes could have ended there, but as a designer, I am in a profession where creating graphic symbols is an important aspect of my work. It was a symbol I couldn’t leave alone. Designers are continually challenged to come up with visual icons that evoke immediate recognition, emotional power, and universal meaning. We talk buzzwords and use terms
like brand building, establishing corporate identity, and creating a clear visual language. By any standard, the American flag has brand value that every corporation would envy. In terms of pure graphic strength, the Stars and Stripes is distinct and compelling. People recognize it even in snippets of color and pattern.
But the American flag is not only a symbol that everyone recognizes. It is also one to which everyone, not only Americans, has a personal and often visceral response. Over the past two hundred years, people have expressed their feelings toward the country through the flag. They have used it to legitimize their cause, whether a product or a political campaign. They have shown their displeasure over a political position or a military activity by their vilification of it. And they have proclaimed their patriotic pride through it, even when reticent to express themselves in actual words.
When I view my collection as a whole, I am fascinated by the many forms and interpretations the Stars and Stripes have taken over the decades. I have found flags frozen in ice cream, made of broken tile and cemented in a wall, carved in tree trunks, baked in cookies, molded in Jell-O, etched in granite, made of pressed flowers, and sprinkled with red, silver, and blue glitter by a Haitian-American immigrant. My design colleagues Bob Brunner and James Biber even used the shape of a waving flag as their inspiration for the design of the official millennium time capsule for the U.S. government. Through this parade of objects and imagery, I’ve learned a lot about the social milieus from which the various flag interpretations emerged. Trying to find out who the Captain Rodgers of the “Corea” flag was led me to read up on Civil War ironclads, obscure battles, and military traditions. Noting that certain materials did not exist prior to a given date prompted me to research manufacturing methods and design styles. It is not just the flag as a designed object that has intrigued me. It is the rich history that surrounds it, too.
For me, the collector’s passion is in the joy of discovery—in sorting through piles of stuff at antiques fairs and flea markets and finally unearthing a new and wonderful iteration of the Stars and Stripes; in learning about how people lived and thought in another time; and in deepening my appreciation of the independent spirit and resourcefulness of the true “designers” of the flag, the American people.
Kit Hinrichs & Linda Hinrichs
Kit Hinrichs, Chairman
Linda Hinrichs, Archivist
Ken Clark, Secretary
Shawn Greene, CFO
Jeff Bridgman, Board Member
Lorne Buchman, Board Member
Amanda Cane, Board Member
Patti Groh, Board Member
Terry Heffernan, Board Member
Chris Hinrichs, Board Member
Delphine Hirasuna, Board Member
Gretchen Kirk, Board Member
Morrow Otis, Board Member
Sarah Schleuning, Board Member
Jon Wilkman, Board Member