Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textile Narratives & Conversions: Proceedings of the 10th Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, October 11–14, Toronto, Ontario


Copyright 2006 by the author.


For millennia fabric banners have served as indicators of political affiliation and national allegiance. Flags are steeped in the foundational mythology of a country, region, or group. Flags sum up moments of glory (while ignoring ignominious history). Flags foster a pride in identity that can unite people. Flags are the stuff of swelled chests and Independence Day parades.

But countries are composed of individuals who have private histories, relationships, hopes and dreams. Some people (or their ancestors) know firsthand their country’s failure to offer equality and justice to all its citizens. Most people use this national symbol to shade patriotism with their own particular concerns. By visually associating a position with the national icon, groups can wave the flag of patriotism—and lobby for their candidate, depict history in a particular light, or justify their special interests.

Not surprisingly artists have employed flags or the depiction of flags. Like all material culture, these objects and images may be read superficially as reflective of nationalistic or geographic influence. Or they might be read more deeply—taking into account what precipitated the work. In Eugene Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People from 1830, the historical context is not the French Revolution but the three-day revolt of 1830 that forced the abdication of Charles X. Besides serving as a national or public record, this painting also holds Delacroix’s ideology. Wearing a tall, black hat, Delacroix included himself in the scene as both witness and supporter of this group act.