The Bear Flag Museum is the inspiration of William J. (“Bill”) Trinkle, a California attorney and member of the North American Vexillological Association (“NAVA”) since 1994. NAVA is a group devoted to the serious study of flags from a multidisciplinary view.
In the mid-1990s, Bill (while browsing through a used bookstore in San Francisco) stumbled into an early 1900s edition of the California Blue Book, an annual publication of the State of California until the later part of the 20th Century. Hidden within its pages, Bill found a photograph of the “original” California Bear Flag which had been in the possession of the California Society of Pioneers from the 1850s until it was destroyed during San Francisco’s Earthquake and fires of April 1906. This contradicted other information which Bill had read which stated that no photograph of the original Bear Flag was in existence. Eureka! The excitement of having located something which was thought by many to not exist set Bill off on a decades long search for data, information, drawings, photographs, text materials, researches related to the history of the California Bear Flag.
By 1996, Bill had created a decent collection of graphic renditions of the Bear Flag which was initially shown to a Northern California group of flag students informally called “GAVA” with the ultimate intention of being shown to the 30th Convention of NAVA which was to be held in Sacramento, CA during October 1996. The collection was given the name: “Barely a Bear: Renditions of the Bear Flag” as a result of the poor quality and sometimes bizarre designs shown in these various versions of the flag. It might be said that this was not unlike the “piglike” design of the bear on the original flag. However, personal issues interfered with these intentions, and it has taken ten years to get back to a more active role.
As known to students of the California Flag, in 1953 the State of California standardized in great detail the design of the state flag. While for many this standardization was a good thing, for Bill Trinkle, it was the older, non-standard, highly variable versions of the actual flags and drawings of the flag which were more interesting, intriguing and at times down right humorous. It was these versions of the flag which had been and were collected.
Further, down the road of interest, Bill came upon the idea of a flag museum. If only a lottery win had permitted such a museum, a physical facility with real flags, old and new! Instead in October 2006, after attending the NAVA 40 Convention in Reno, NV, the idea first blossomed to create a virtual museum of the California Bear Flag. Now here was an idea which actually might be affordable and permit the real creation of a resource of all things related to the California Bear Flag. It helped that Bill had fallen in love with a beautiful, artistic woman who only rarely “twitched” at his flag addiction, and who just happened to be familiar with the ins and outs of creating a website. Thank you, Peggy Rose! When we began in late 2006, only the beginnings of the California Bear Flag Museum were known.
On January 23, 2008, the BFM reached the first anniversary of the uploading of its first pages, having been seen by roughly 3000 visitors during that year. It has been a good year. We have learned a great deal and have been helped by many. Thank you to all but especially to our friends at the North American Vexillological Association and those others who have granted us permission to add their images or texts to our site. We can only hope that 2008 will be as good a year as our first. It can only be hoped that one day this site, this online museum will be recognized as a true resource for those interested in any facet of the history of the Bear Flag. Long may “Cubby” wave!
For further information on NAVA or to join its membership click on this link.