PROMOTING FLAGS

by Joe Hurley
Graphics: Krista Hicks-Benson

(Reprinted by permission from "The News Times," Tuesday, February 18,1997, p. B-1)

Peter Orenski's latest project is to create and then donate flags to the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian. Most of the tribal flags are modern translations of traditional symbols and have never been made. Orenski hopes to change this.

Heeeeeeee's back. Peter Orenski, the indefatigable flag lover, is at it again -- and this time he won't rest until he sees Indian tribal flags flying in front of the National Museum of the American Indian in the nation's capit al.

Orenski is the man who organized a competition to design a New Milford flag. His offbeat proposal drew scores of offerings. Participants ranged from school children to design professionals.

The result was the familiar green and white New Milford flag that flies in front of Town Hall and elsewhere in town.

Around town, Orenski is known as the Flag Man. He wears flag shirts, flag hats, flag sunglasses, and drinks from a flag mug.

He earns his living selling lapel pins that feature flags from around the world. His customers have included the White House, the British Royal family and Lech Walesa.

Now the Flag Man's mission is to donate more than 100 Native American Flags to the Museum when it opens on the Mall in Washington, DC, in 2002. The Museum is now in New York.

The project began last year when Orenski read an advance copy of Don Healy's book of Native American flags. The work was compiled for the North American Vexillological (flag) Association and contains 130 flags of Indian Nat ions, Tribes, and Associations.

It was the first compilation of its kind, Orenski said.

"I was blown away when I saw some of these flags, they were gorgeous," he said

Most of the flags exist only as designs on paper. Orenski wants to create true flags and donate them to the Museum. He broached the idea to the Museum several months ago.

Last week, Liz Hill, the Museum's director of public affairs, said Orenski's informal proposal was under review, but she didn't know its status.

That was about as much as Orenski expected at this point.

"Until you have something to show them, it's just a proposal," he said. "Why should they think we're serious? My job is to show them we're serious."

He said the vexillological association is supporting the project, and he's received an enthusiastic response from flag dealers, some of whom think the Indian flags could be a successful commercial venture.

Orenski has also applied for a National Endowment for the Arts grant and has contacted the office of Sen. ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

Although national flags are a European concept, Native Americans have a long and rich history of tribal symbols, said Orenski, who is the treasurer of the vexillological association.

Some of the Indian flags date back hundreds of years, but most are modern translations of traditional symbols.

"In the last decade, there's been an explosion of Native flags," he said.

Lately, Orenski is working on refining the designs in Healy's book. Not surprisingly, the Flag Man is fascinated by the flags.

"There's an association with nature that you don't see in European flags. There are foxes, wolves, arrows, tepees -- it's their soul," he said.

He pointed to the flag of the Oneida of Wisconsin. It depicts a bear and a wolf emerging from a forest.

"What a beautiful way to represent the animals," he said.

The only better sight would be the flag flying in front of the Museum," he said.

(Illustrations by Krista Hicks-Benson show the flags of the Northern Cheyenne, the Iroquois League, the Mohegan, the Mohawk, and the Sioux. Brief highlights touch on various aspects of Native life and tradition)

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