“Stitching the American Spirit”

Drawing of a woman sewing a flag

"Stitching the American Spirit" by Colin Shen, 2022-2023 Youth Leadership Team member

Colin Shen

Significance of the American flag and its founding:

Bleeding in the face of hundreds of Confederate enemies, Sergeant William Carney of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry rushed forward to secure the American flag. With red, white, and blue pulled close for protection, he began the painful march from the walls of Fort Wagner. Carnage and chaos surrounded him. Still, the wounded bearer pressed onward until reaching the Union lines. By bearing the weight of the flag and the ache of the bullets, Carney preserved the indomitable spirit of our nation.

Much like William Carney, countless American heroes have stood beneath the flag with unwavering patriotism. Time and time again, ordinary men and women have woven their stories of valor into the rich tapestry of American history. The first to do so, Betsy Ross, wove her own story of hardship and shaped the fabric of our nation by stitching the American spirit. 

The legend goes that George Washington, Robert Morris, and George Ross, approached her in 1776 to discuss the design of a national flag. Betsy Ross immediately got to work. She straightened every crooked stripe, and suggested a simpler five-point star to remedy each misshapen six-point star. Moreover, Ross persevered and continued to patch our nation together despite her own hardship: the death of her husband in a British munitions raid. And so, as Betsy Ross meticulously stitched each stripe and star into place, she was unknowingly weaving her own place in history. The Second Continental Congress would solidify Ross’s design in 1777 with the Flag Resolution. From this emerged the national flag-- a testament to the unwavering dedication of Americans and the sacrifices made by Ross. In stitching the spirit, she paved the way for countless American heroes like William Carney, and will be forever memorialized as a founder of the American identity.

Drawing of a woman sewing a flag
"Stitching the American Spirit" by Colin Shen, 2022-2023 Youth Leadership Team member Colin Shen
Colin Shen

The inspiration behind the artwork:

In this artwork, I chose to honor Betsy Ross by illustrating a modern seamstress. Her hand is outstretched, threading the needle through the first star of the United States. In capturing Betsy Ross in her most defining moment- patching the first star- she’s remembered as an American heroine. Thirteen stripes, thirteen stars, and thirteen colonies became inextricably linked through Ross’s thread and British mercantilism. 

In the illustration, Betsy’s expression is indiscernible and a shadow is cast across her face, symbolic of turmoil. Ross faced hardship in her personal life with the death of her husband, and other Americans faced the looming threat of war. Prioritizing her nation over her loss, Ross chose to rise above her personal tragedy and continued devoting her time to creating a symbol of hope for a young nation. By illustrating this shadow and conflicted expression, Betsy’s choice to put the needs of her nation above her personal hardships is emphasized.

As the thread breaches star and stripe, it seems to connect the past and the present, reminding us that the ideals of nationalism embraced by Betsy Ross are still relevant today. The illustration serves as a testament that the spirit of unity, resilience, and creativity continues to define the American people, embodying the essence of what it means to be part of the enduring tapestry of history. 

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