Heraldry brings Sewanee a sense of “community” for residence halls

The nineteen new flags hung in McClurg Dining Hall. Photo by Matt Hembree (C’20).

By Mary Pryor
Contributing Writer

Sewanee recently introduced nineteen unique flags to hang in each residence hall and in McClurg Dining Hall to commemorate 150 years of the University. Designed by Dr. Waring McCrady (C’59), a former French professor, the 19 flags were first presented at the Convocation on Family Weekend by Vice-Chancellor John McCardell.

The project idea was first introduced “about ten years ago, for PRE (a pre-orientation program for first-year students), when someone had the bright idea of creating screen-printed shirts for each dorm. Although a great idea at first, it was unfortunately put off,” said McCrady.

According to McCrady, McCardell voiced “his desire for something unique and celebratory for the anniversary, and we both agreed it would be a nice splash; I was delighted to take on the project.”

Heraldry, a custom used heavily in the medieval era, was first popular in the late twelfth century, where it was first presented on shields of knights and noblemen. Using five colors and two metals, gold and silver, heraldry allows for aesthetic freedom to an extent to create a coat of arms.

Some objects common to heraldry are medieval creatures such as the “heraldic tyger” in the Courts Hall flag, nature in the Phillips Hall flag, diamond shapes used in the Benedict Hall flag, and cadency, which is a system of numbering commonly used “at disposal” and is seen in the Hoffman Hall flag with the star. The symbol shows how Hoffman is third in rank and the third oldest dorm.  

The aesthetic leisure allows for techniques such as division, the mix of colors and metals, and counter-changing, where one color crosses another and is altered for a “color pop” effect, as seen in the yellow and purple University flag.

McCrady used the traditional style of heraldry, incorporating the historical contextualization into each flag to give a more “personal” feel. He created each design with technical care, using a 2:3 ratio for length and height. Each flag was made with sound-absorbing lining to help with the acoustics of McClurg at its busiest hours.

Hodgson Hall, the oldest surviving dormitory, has three books on its flag, representing the fact that it was originally erected as a library by the Hodgson family and was also used as a hospital, where McCrady was born.

The Quintard flag features the stag from Bishop Quintard’s coat of arms, but McCrady said “his coat of arms was much more complicated and featured four stags. I cut it down to one and added the sabres, using the artistic elements at my own leisure, to honor the fact that the Quintard building was the military academy for some time.”

The Gorgas dorm flag, named after the first Gownsman of the University, features two lozenges with the heraldic symbol for water and the Rod of Asclepius, symbolic to the fact that Gorgas was a doctor who helped with the creation of the Panama Canal, where he helped solve the problem of malaria.

His personal favorite to design, Johnson, gave him more artistic freedom. It features daffodils and the “ATO spring,” a spring near Alpha Tau Omega. “Johnson, in its history, has always been well known for the daffodils that grew outside the dormitory, and the ATO spring that runs practically right under Johnson is the principal reason the University of the South was built in this location. The school needed the spring for water in its earliest days.”

McCrady concluded, “When heraldry is done right, the designs are permanent, and unlike logos that are constantly having to be rebranded for a ‘trendy effect,’ they are abstract enough to not get outdated.” McCrady’s hope with these flags is that “by breaking each dormitory up with a flag, it will unite us all in having a symbol, and give spirit to us all.”

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