Long live Roanoke’s 1884 seal
Roanoke’s cluttered and smog-shrouded seal certainly makes a statement. Just not the right one. The city’s original seal better represents today’s Roanoke.
Sunday, March 10, 2013
If any image readily pops to mind to symbolize Roanoke, it is this: the city’s logo.
According to city literature, the logo "visually expresses the soaring spirit of optimism that defines the city. The colors are a balance between urban sophistication and friendly charm.
"The mountain, made up of three individual and unique shapes, illustrates the balance and stability of the city. ... The central star is derived from the well-loved icon atop Mill Mountain. The star embodies the heritage and spirit of the city. The dynamic rays of light illustrate the energy of exciting new ideas and the ability to make things happen."
But an aspirational logo is not a seal where a community’s past and hope for the future are distilled in circular form that carries with it the full solemnity of officialdom. Roanoke’s seal, adopted in 1906, looks like this
Ick. At least its modern digital cousin is slightly less cringe-inducing, as a little Whiteout cured the blemish of billowing smoke pouring from the industrial stacks.
The sight of this seal has, we understand, prompted the occasional city official to fleetingly consider diving under a table in embarrassment whenever it is displayed with some of the neighbors’ seals, like this:
Or even this:
But maybe not this:
We’ll reserve comment on that for some other day.
For now, Roanoke City Manager Chris Morrill has suggested returning to the original seal that City Clerk Stephanie Moon unearthed from the dusty archives, and which looked like this:
It has been given the Turner Movie Classic treatment to look like this:
No doubt, a much cleaner image of Roanoke. Morrill does a fine job explaining in his column today why that imagery is preferable to one of a broken-cog, pollution-emitting, Geisha-style Lady Justice adorning today’s seal.
Some might argue the 1884 seal isn’t urban enough. Others might suggest scrapping both and starting over. Roanoke tried that once in the mid-1970s, kicking off a two-year debate. The winning entry from an artistic contest looked like this:
The star practically screams Roanoke, but the shells? As the editorial "Star and Shells" of Sept. 23, 1975 notes, "the significance of the shells — or the fact that they are shells — may not be immediately obvious even to those who know that ‘Roanoke’ was an Indian word for money and that the money was shells. Outlanders may be led to believe that Roanoke is somewhere near the ocean."
There we go again getting confused with the Lost Colony. Roanoke, still trying to establish a sense of place with outsiders (Virginia’s Blue Ridge, anyone?), might be tempted to put today’s symbols on the original seal. The City Market Building, for instance, is the iconic symbol of downtown. Or, perhaps, today’s environmentally friendly jobs should be featured.
Though tempted to consider this suggestion, we instead defer to the wisdom of Roanoke Times editorialists of yesteryear who pondered just such a question in "Council and the City Seal," Dec. 28, 1975:
"An airplane could be placed in the upper left sky. And, as Councilman David Lisk has suggested, the Mill Mountain Star might be worked into the old design.
"... the 1884 seal is not a work of art; the new proposals have it beat, if it is strictly art the city fathers want ... . A virtue of the 1884 seal is that it is old, and a young city like Roanoke should cling to what it has that is old.
"The seal represents what some unknown artist and little-known aldermen saw as symbolizing Roanoke two years after it burst from the Big Lick cocoon. They could have done worse. Mountains, valley, railroad and justice."
It needn’t say more.
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