“It works. And it’s beautiful.”
That’s how Columbia County Supervisor Teresa Sumnicht of Columbus summarized the installation of the centerpiece light fixture in the lobby of the new Columbia County Administration Building – a fixture that she says combines the function of illumination with the honoring of a beloved national symbol.
It’s called a flag lantern, and from the ground, it looks like a box kite with vertical U.S. flags on all four sides.
But now that it’s hanging in the atrium of the new building at 112 E. Edgewater St., the flag lantern is intended to be an evocative image of what the building is all about.
“When you come into the building,” Sumnicht said, “you’re under the unity that the flag has represented for all these years.”
Sumnicht and Supervisor Fred Teitgen of the town of Dekorra – both members of the County Board’s Ad Hoc Building Committee – unveiled the proposal for the flag lantern in March 2016. That was when they brought a prototype to show the committee.
Teitgen built the half-size mock-up, based on Sumnicht’s idea.
He had to create the prototype from scratch, because to his knowledge, there is no other artistic light fixture quite like this.
On Friday morning, Teitgen and Sumnicht saw the flag lantern installed at the main entry atrium, in the new Administration Building’s northeast corner.
Teitgen said the lantern was fabricated at Custom Metals of Madison from Teitgen’s design drawings, and using 3- by 5-foot cotton U.S. flags that Sumnicht custom-ordered from a company in Wauwatosa.
According to Sumnicht, the flags had to be customized, to remove the metal grommets that are usually used to attach a flag to a halyard, and to add hook-and-loop fabric to affix the flags to the frame.
The illumination, Teitgen said, conforms to electric and fire safety standards, using 4.5-foot light-emitting diode strip lights inside the lantern. There will be a regulator that can dim and brighten the illumination as needed, but Teitgen envisions the flag being lighted around the clock.
“Legally,” he said,” if you don’t illuminate a flag, you’re supposed to take it down.”
Sumnicht and Teitgen showed the prototype to Columbia County Veterans Service Officer Richard Hasse to ensure that it conforms to flag display etiquette.
The “union” (blue field with stars) of each vertically-displayed flag is displayed in the upper left-hand corner, from the viewpoint of people looking at the flags.
With the help from workers from H&H Electric, the flag lantern’s fixture was set, and the lantern installed on Friday morning. Officials of J.H. Findorff and Sons, the Madison-based construction firm overseeing the building project, arranged for a lift to give workers access to the upper ceiling level, Teitgen said.
The flag lantern hangs about 17 feet above the floor in the multi-story entrance atrium, though it can be brought down for maintenance.
When the building opens for business later this month or in early June, the flag lantern will be the first thing visitors see when they enter.
Sumnicht said that when she was thinking about the kind of feelings that she wanted the entryway art to evoke, she thought about love of the land — and thought of the flag as the symbol of that love.
Sumnicht said she’d thought about other possible artistic images to display on the lantern – and it’s possible that someday, the flags will be replaced with other works of art.
But the flag fabric is expected to endure, without fading or deteriorating, for about five years. The flag is, for the foreseeable future, what the lantern will illuminate.
People, Sumnicht said, tend to take the flag for granted, and sometimes display it in ways that don’t do justice to its exalted status – for example, on clothing or personal accessories. (Flag etiquette prohibits displaying the flag on facial tissues, handkerchiefs, napkins, boxes or anything that is likely to be discarded.)