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Waving ‘Her Flag’ in celebration of the 19th Amendment

  • Marilyn Artus celebrates after attaching the New Hampshire portion of Her Flag at the Woman’€™s Club in Concord on Saturday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Marilyn Artus holds up the New Hampshire portion of the Her Flag project at the Woman’€™s Club in Concord on Saturday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • New Hampshire marks Marilyn Artus’s 16th stop for Her Flag, an art project celebrating the 19th Amendment. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Artist Nicole LaRue, formely of Sharon, takes a sneak peak of her portion of the Her Flag as Marilyn Artus gets ready for the production of attaching it to the piece of art at the Woman’s Club in Concord on Saturday, October 12, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Artist Nicole LaRue holds up the New Hampshire portion to the Her Flag project at the Woman’s Club in Concord on Saturday, October 12, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Marilyn Artus celebrates as she finishs the production of attaching the New Hampshire portion to the Her Flag at the Woman’s Club in Concord on Saturday, October 12, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 10/13/2019 9:00:14 PM

Marilyn Artus, an Oklahoman with roots buried deep in American soil and the spirit of pushing for human rights, had to do something.

After all, the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote, was fast approaching. Wasn’t it worth doing something to recognize this great piece of history, time it just right to coincide with the big date next summer?

Shouldn’t the first 36 states to ratify the 19th Amendment, which included New Hampshire, be recognized in some fashion – to remind us of where we were and where we need to go? Shouldn’t it be something substantive, a piece of art that will last, well, forever?

That’s why Artus was here Saturday, at the Chamberlin House on Pleasant Street. She’s in the midst of a 36-city, 14-month tour, stopping at the states that once showed some vision in 1919 and 1920, stitching together a flag that symbolizes this breakthrough.

New Hampshire, Artus’s 16th stop, ratified No. 19 on Sept. 10, 1919.

Artus chose – through an application process – artists from each state to submit a representation, an image connected to the identity of their state. Nicole LaRue was chosen, one of the elite 36 artists picked from more than 340 candidates nationally.

LaRue lived in Sharon before moving to Salt Lake City a few months ago for a job. She created the Women’s March on Washington logo, and she flew back here last weekend to have her artwork added to “Her Flag.”

That’s what the originator of this unique tribute calls it: Her Flag.

Artus’s flag.

“The time is tough, being an American,” Artus, who has three ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War, told the group of about 20. “It’s not easy. We can look at this and step back to see how majestic the country is.”

Follow a map of her journey, and your head might spin. She calls it a “super-hard route. Wonky.”

There is no linear pattern to Artus’s travels, because this is a woman who pays attention to details and appreciates history, and all its arbitrary quirks.

That means she’s visiting states in the order they ratified the 19th Amendment, a chaotic dash that would make the Grateful Dead tired.

She began in Madison, Wis., on June 10. She’s been to Illinois, Michigan, Kansas, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Texas, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Montana, Nebraska, Minnesota and the Granite State, after a three-day drive from her home in Oklahoma City.

We’re number 16 on a circuit that will ultimately take Artus to Nashville on Aug. 18, 2020, the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment.

She’s married, and I asked her what her husband thought of this idea. The one that sees her traveling around the country in a van with a sign on the door that says, “The artist in this car is traveling across the country celebrating women’s history.”

“He saw the look in my eye,” Artus told me. “He knows I am passionate and I give a (crap) about women running for office. He cares too. He’s got my back.”

She picked LaRue because “she is amazing, incredible, just extra special.”

LaRue is an art director at a publishing company in Salt Lake City. She’s lived in Japan, South Korea and Portland, Ore., as well.

She heard what Artus wanted to do and jumped at the chance. Her recent resume stood out.

“I did the March on Washington logo and this seemed like a good fit for me to be part of her bigger project,” LaRue told me. “I’m truly excited. I love the work Marilyn does, and this has such a good impact on people. Her project for me is about bringing people together, and with the Women’s March I felt the same way.”

They’d never met until Saturday. Not in person, anyway. They hugged when LaRue entered the Victorian home, built in 1886, with a past that Artus called “yummy and delicious history.”

Those who came, including, appropriately enough, some members of the League of Women Voters, embraced the meaning and the significance and the emergence of justice from the past.

Eve Jacobs-Carnahan drove down from Montpelier, Vt., because, shockingly, her state was not progressive enough to join the original 36.

“Unfortunatley, Vermont was not one of them,” Jacobs-Carnahan said. “This was the closest place I could go to see it.”

Janet Ward of Contoocook, a board member for the League of Women Voters New Hampshire, wore a yellow sash that read, “Votes for Women.” She has two daughters. Feminism was bubbling to the surface when she graduated from college in 1966.

She was hopeful at the time.

She was naive at the time.

“In those days, the sense was society would realize the role women should play,” Ward told me. “We thought businesses would have child care, but society has not moved forward as fast as we thought it would.”

The 19th Amendment, at least, was a start in the right direction, and the anniversary won’t soon be forgotten. Not with these women spreading the word.

LaRue sketched her work in black and white, scanned it and colored it digitally, and shipped the file to Artus. She loved it, so LaRue drew it on a long piece of fabric and brought it here from Salt Lake City.

Fifteen strips already lined the flag, which is huge and growing, 18-by-26 feet when finished. Artus pinned the edges of LaRue’s work to the bottom of the flag, below stripe No. 15.

Soon, singer and guitar player Mary Fagan, a Concord High graduate, remembered the inspiration she felt from teacher Christa McAuliffe, killed in the Challenger disaster in 1986. She sang songs with words such as, “It’s a brand new day, it’s a brand new way.”

Artus began sewing LaRue’s strip to Her Flag. It showed faces with different skin colors. It read, “For All Womankind.” It showed buttons that said, “Equal Suffrage.”

Fagan’s acoustic guitar and singing blended with the rhythmic bobbing of Artus’s machine, placed near a Rosie the Riveter lunch box, showing Rosie and her impressive biceps.

It took three volunteers plus two long poles to spread and display the flag and its 16 entries to the group. A portrait of Susan B. Anthony stood out.

Next stop is Salt Lake City next month, after a break at home in Oklahoma. “I need the time off,” Artus said.

Looking ahead, Artus said she hopes her finished flag, with the 36 stripes that she calls her “baby stripes,” sewn together into a mosaic of human rights and righting a wrong, will be displayed in Washington, D.C., during the 2020 presidential election.

Not for political purposes, mind you. As Artus says, “No party owns this anniversary.”

We own it. The country. The original 36. That includes the Granite State. One day, perhaps this banner of equality will be displayed on one of the biggest historical stages in the world.

“My fantasy is the Smithsonian, of course,” Artus said.

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