A Laramie artist is contributing a stripe to a touring flag celebrating the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.
Bethann Garramon Merkle is the Wyoming artist chosen to contribute to “Her Flag,” which is on a national tour to the 36 states that voted in 1919 to ratify the amendment. A Cheyenne event with talks and live music had been planned for Saturday.
Because of concerns about the transmission of COVID-19, the live portion of the Wyoming stop has been cancelled. However, artist Marilyn Artus is still planning a live stream via Facebook of the Wyoming stripe being sewn to the flag itself, set for 1 p.m. Saturday.
Garramon Merkle is a research scientist with the University of Wyoming Biodiversity Institute who works in science communications. Her stripe had to be made in mostly pink hues and feature the name of her state, but otherwise the topic of each stripe was left to the artist.
She chose to consider modern-day discussions in the Equality State about issues such as income and representation in elected office. Her stripe also features plants and animals native to the state and honors women in her family.
Garramon Merkle grew up in Montana and has lived in Laramie for about five years. The process of growing in familiarity with a new home, for her, involved a close study of Wyoming’s ecology.
“Getting to know Wyoming and have it feel like a home and a place was tied to getting out into the landscape, learning about it, taking my sketchbook along and drawing stuff, and getting curious about things and stopping and looking at them very closely,” she said.
The stripe includes 36 portraits of women who taught her about equality, identity, finding one’s way in the world, natural landscapes and other life lessons. Some of the portraits, like those of her mother, sisters and grandmother, are of family members.
“They are leading forces in our family, and it’s a big family,” she said. “They have a lot of impact, and they modeled for me ways to have an independent identity in a rural community and rural family, and they modeled for me how to give to your community in really important ways.”
Other portraits are of women outside her family.
“I started engaging more with women who were scientists and naturalists and knew a ton about the natural landscape around us, and I didn’t grow up with that,” she said.
She used fabric that was once part of her great-grandmother’s quilting stash for the stripe’s background. She sewed pieces into four-patch squares that she turned into digital images on which to draw the portraits. The finished piece was printed on durable outdoor material to be part of the final product.
“Her Flag” is the inspiration of artist Marilyn Artus, who often uses flag imagery for work intended to spark civic dialogue. She started the project last year by inviting 36 artists to join the effort and planning trips to each state to add each stripe one at a time.
The final project will measure 18-by-26 feet and is set to be completed in August in Nashville, Tennessee.
The 19th Amendment guarantees the right to vote without consideration “on account of sex.” The women’s suffrage movement started in the mid-1800s. Wyoming Territory, of course, granted women the right to vote in 1869, and Laramie’s Louisa Ann Swain cast the first vote in September 1870.
Artus said “Her Flag” isn’t about politics; instead, it’s a celebration of everyone who worked together to accomplish a goal a long time in the making.
“It is a powerful, positive symbol used to educate and celebrate this truly momentous American anniversary,” she said.