A few more things I want to touch on before showing some sketches for A House in Oregon are heraldic crests and symbols that are rooted in the graphic history of many world cultures. In Japan, emblems used to identify a family, caste or individual are called kamon. In European tradition, such a marking was developed as a coat of arms. Other such heraldic forms are found all over the world, but these graphic languages are the most impactful for me. Heraldry is the study and production of such designs, and the waters go very deep when it comes to the understanding of genealogy, pictographic representation, and blazoning of ancestral armorial bearings. That basically means that they were making sure they knew who to kill when on a battlefield, and when they were at home they were making sure who to brag about.
The nomenclature and organization of a family’s coat of arms can get really intricate and formal, even protected by law. The kamon of the Japanese aren’t so strict or systematic, and these symbols are rarely recognized by the government. The distinction between the two reflect that; the heraldry of badges and coats of arms are intricate and patchworked, with each field of color and pattern (ranging in arrays such as tinctures, charges, and ordinaries). The kamon on the other hand are elegantly simple and often accord to the frame of a circle or diamond in a symmetrical arrangement.
These are vastly different systems for establishing a brand for a family. One could envision their coat of arms displayed on the iron gate that leads into their estate or depicted over the mantle of an entryway. The kamon in Japan might be imprinted on clay shingles or painted on lanterns that adorn the streets where their family dwells—they would also be used in ceremonial occasions and on tombstones. The coat of arms is complex and even strives to include past unifications of families within the patterns. They also use real figures or subjects, such as lions or stags or crowns to represent their histories. The kamon are similar in some respects, sometimes clinging to an entire subject, such as three hollyhock leaves or a more detailed representation of a prawn or butterfly.
It’s fascinating how differently the cultures pursued emblems for their families in the past. Why don’t we use graphics to represent our families today? Is our present culture more detached from war, competition or blood loyalty that we find no need for representation? Have we come to understand our families more as communities as our populations have increased, relying on states and countries to represent us en masse? In America it seems the commercial brand is king of the land these days—that family loyalty is less important than business allegiance. Commercial brands sit alongside community branding too, but we still rarely see individual families with banners or crests. There are even cases where family emblems have been incorporated into commercial branding, like in the case of Mitsubishi, Porsche, or Kikkoman.
I won’t row us down the very wide and deep river of analysis of European heraldry and the Japanese kamon, that would take ages. The point here is inspiration. For the family at Monthly Brand that is looking for a “crest” of their own, both coats of arms and kamon utilize graphics that attempt to capture concepts of unity, strength, or simply individuality. They range from chrysanthemums, a symbol of imperial aristocracy, to the mythical griffins, representing monogamy or divine courage. Though the House in Oregon brand staged as the current client isn’t purposed for a set of relatives, per se, there is a family that lives in that house, and the house is affected as a member of that family, and less of just an environment. The house itself is part of the family’s emblem as well. Though I travel down a path of complicated questions (such as what exactly are we expecting to represent with this brand) I know that in the end we are looking for simplicity and elegance at the same time. The kamon have simplicity in the bag. As do the ranchers of livestock branding I explored previously. The focus at this point is inspiration, and now I can see how we’ve distinguished our clans and tribes and soldiers in the past. Though antiquated, the representation of one’s family or household has been with humans for ages it would seem, and those banners can take on thousands of forms. How to absorb that quality and apply it to a simple life in a nested structure deep in the forests of Oregon, that’s the question now.