In 1916 President Woodrow Wilson designated, June 14, as National Flag Day in observance of the day the stars and stripes was adopted as the United States flag in 1777.
Crystal Bridges has a particular reason to celebrate this year as we unveil our recently acquired Flag, 1983, by Jasper Johns. The flag motif appears over and over in Johns’s work. His first Flag, inspired by a flag Johns saw in a dream, was painted in 1954, and Johns has revisited the theme more than 90 times in his long career. This version, created in 1983, includes an actual silk flag affixed to the canvas underneath the encaustic paint (a mixture of pigment and wax).
The flag theme seems to have run in Johns’s family. His ancestor, William Jasper, was a German immigrant to America who fought in the Revolutionary War. As part of a force sent to defend Charleston, South Carolina, from the British, Jasper was posted to Fort Sullivan on Sullivan Island.
During the battle on June 28, 1776, the British shot down the South Carolina flag, which had only recently been designed by Colonel William Moultrie, the fort’s commanding officer. Jasper leapt out from his position and recovered the flag, raising it again on a makeshift pole and rallying the troops. The British attack was repelled. In honor of his bravery, South Carolina Governor John Rutledge presented Jasper with his own personal sword and two silk flags.
Perhaps Jasper should have quit while he was ahead. In 1779, he lost his life during the Siege of Savannah, Georgia, during an attempt to recover the fallen regimental flag. Nevertheless, Jasper subsequently became something of a national folk hero, and there are counties named after him in several states. There is also a sculpture of William Jasper that stands in Madison Square in Savannah.
Both Jasper Johns and his father were named after this illustrious ancestor, so perhaps it’s not surprising that Johns would dream of a flag or mull it over in his work for more than 50 years.
Long may it wave!