Benny Benson Hand-Sewn Flag to be Restored by Friends of the Library

Friends of the Seward Library was awarded a major SCF grant of $4,000 to restore one of the original hand-sewn Benny Benson flags. This flag was first presented to Mrs. Viola Swetmann, one of the founders of the Seward Community Library, who, in turn, loaned it to the library for display.  The flag was then passed to Friends of the Library through Mrs. Swetmann’s estate along with many other Seward historical artifacts, including art, furniture, and a house. Unfortunately, the flag was not displayed in a way to maintain the archival condition and has since faded and aged.   

After Interwoven Fibers LLC completed a preliminary assessment in Anchorage, it was found that the flag could be restored and itemized what would be required to clean and reframe. The flag, originally sewn in 1927 of silk cloth, had been hung in a library window (which caused fading) and then attached and framed to a plywood backing in the ’60s. The nature of the plywood was acidic and caused slow degradation of the fibers. Interwoven Fibers developed a plan to clean the flag and to reframe in an archival state that would preserve it for generations. 

The flag is significant to Seward’s history. In 1927, the Territory of Alaska held a contest for school children to design a flag that would enshrine the values and meaning of being an Alaskan. Benny Benson, a resident at the Jessie Lee Home, submitted several entries, including the chosen one. Benny explained in his winning submission, “The blue field is for the Alaska sky and the forget-me-not, an Alaska flower. The North Star is for the future of the state of Alaska, the most northerly in the Union. The dipper is for the Great Bear – symbolizing strength.” For his efforts, Benny was awarded a watch and $1,000, which he used to further his education as a diesel mechanic. On the 75th anniversary of the adoption of the flag, Lt Governor Fran Ulmer used the occasion to remind people, saying, “The flag story continues to remind us of the importance of listening to the ideas and opinions of young people.” 

Mary Tougas, President of the Friends of the Seward Library, stated that she is grateful to get support from SCF for Seward’s historical collection. She is especially excited about this particular project since, as a young girl, she knew Benny Benson in Kodiak. She said he was quiet and shy but particularly proud of his flag. He would hand make 8×15 inch replicas on blue material with painted gold stars; each one he would sign in gold paint. These would be handed out to dignitaries visiting the island. 

Seward Community Foundation is proud to support this project and the good works of Friends of the Seward Community Library. Working together, we can restore and remind our community and visitors of Seward’s colorful history. The clean and reframed flag will be displayed during the November Library Open House. 

This grant was funded by the Margaret A. Anderson Fund of the Seward Community Foundation, the City of Seward Unrestricted Fund, and the Seward Community Foundation Fund.

by Marc Swanson, SCF Advisor