An Interview With Gracie Sheppard On The Black Country Flag
*Firstly a disclaimer on a very large noticeable error in this video on my part!
I’m not particualy well versed in making these types of video, but thought I was very clever in flipping the Black Country flag over , so that when filmed it would look the right way in the recording…Obviously that didn’t work & so throughout the filming , Gracies flag is actually hung the wrong way round. Quite the faux par in the company of Black Country royalty, but there you go. Full apologies.
Gracie Sheppard designed the Black Country Flag aged 12 in 2013.
She came to visit the Black Country T Shirt shop in the summer of 2019 to gain some work experience.
We thought we’d take that opportunity to catch up with Gracie & get her thoughts on the Black Country flag reflecting back.
Including it’s immense popularity & controversy that surrounded it.
The video is loosely transcribed below, paraphrasing to omit all my ums ah’s & waffle. All with Gracies approval.
gracie sheppard interview.mp4
Steve , BCT [00:00:00] BIT OF INTRO – so here we are at black country T-shirts. We got a very special guest with us today. Gracie Shepard, although she’s actually been with us for the past three weeks doing some work experience. For those of you who don’t know Gracie , she is the young woman behind the Black Country flag . She was 12 years old when she designed the Black Country flag back in 2013 when she entered a competition to design the a Flag for the Black Country..
[00:01:42] In 2015 it was the largest selling flag after the St George’s cross, showing how rich a culture we have in the black country .
[00:01:58] Gracie’s been working with us now to get some experience in the workplace , now she’s reached the grand old age of 19.
[00:02:06] You’re currently studying Psychology degree in Warwick university right. ?
Gracie Sheppard [00:02:10] Yeah.
Steve , BCT [00:02:14] How is that working out for you?
Gracie Sheppard [00:02:15] Really enjoy doing psychology it’s good.
Steve , BCT [00:02:26] Are you constantly now analysing everyone you speak to , looking at body movements & such as practice?
Gracie Sheppard [00:02:26] haha no , I’m not that good yet.. but that’s what everyone now thinks!
Steve , BCT [00:02:41] So how did you hear about the Museum’s competition to design the flag?
Gracie Sheppard [00:02:50] We heard about it in our school when I was in year 7 at Red Hill Secondary School in Stourbridge. They announced the contest to us in art class. So we just started to get some ideas from there. And also we went on a trip to the Black Country museum about where they spoke to us more about it.
Steve , BCT [00:03:13] So the whole class entered?
Steve , BCT [00:03:26] Did you start then to create ideas on the trip?
Gracie Sheppard [00:03:26] We had some talks at the museum. To give us some ideas.
Steve , BCT [00:03:31] What sort of prompting did they give you?
Gracie Sheppard [00:03:34] They just gave us a bit of light history and such..
Steve , BCT [00:03:45] I See , talking to you about the Black by day, red by night culture etc?.
Steve , BCT [00:03:46] So there wasn’t a moment where you decided to enter the competition… it was kinda forced on you haha?
Gracie Sheppard [00:03:46] (laughs) Yeah, there were some people in class who really did try to design a flag , while others knew they didn’t ‘have’ to if they didn’t want to. So there were varying levels of entry.
Steve , BCT [00:04:17] (just gives a brief description of the flag for viewers). So Gracie’s design has the black by day Red by night theme running through it. Which was based on the American industrialist Elihu Burrits (yes I googled & ‘remembered his name afterwards!) comments about the Black Country. Which was that the Black Country was Black by day, describing the abundant the coal seams in the ground & red by night through the glow of the furnaces that were constantly at work. And the white shape through the middle is the shape of the Glasshouse cone as glass making was huge around the Stourbridge area (where Gracie grew up) area particularly in pockets of Walsall also & the chains running through were a again a main item manufactured in the Black Country.
Steve , BCT [00:05:27] Gracie, Did you have an immediate idea of what you were going to design or did it evolve?
Gracie Sheppard [00:05:46] I didn’t have an immediate idea . I just kind of like googled quite a lot & I tried to research a bit. I think originally the concept of the chain, I knew I wanted to incorporate it somehow and then I came across across the ‘black by day, red by night quote & just sort of Oh that’s what I’ll use as my colour scheme. So from there I started to piece it together.
Steve , BCT [00:06:13] So you kind of researched a lot of history before even put any pen to paper. It wasn’t like you have something in your mind or you started to draw random shapes. Did you do any l prior versions that didn’t make the final cut?
Gracie Sheppard [00:06:26] Yeah. a few but they weren’t very good (laughs) it was literally just chains and stuff. I can’t remember everything else I did.
Steve , BCT [00:06:43] What did you do it on?. Did you do on paper or just on the computer.
Gracie Sheppard [00:06:47] I I did a bit on pen pen and paper but then did try to do it on computer afterwards.
Steve , BCT [00:06:55] So the artwork you submitted, was it exactly like the flag looks now? OR was it refined afterwards?.
Gracie Sheppard [00:07:03] No, it was pretty much like it is now when I handed it in on paper.
Steve , BCT [00:07:24] Can you remember any other designs from the class ? Was it like a first second or third?
Gracie Sheppard [00:07:33] I think it was the final six. in the newspaper. And then people could just vote for their favourite, So it was a public vote. All the final six went to the Black Museum where they like announced the winner.
Steve , BCT [00:08:00] Can you remember the runner up designs?
Gracie Sheppard [00:08:03] I can’t remember them exactly but a lot of them did include the chains but I think it was quite varied colour wise. I think there was a yellow one & a light one with green or something but It was quite varied.
Steve , BCT [00:08:26] So what did you win ?
Gracie Sheppard [00:08:29] I won 200 pounds and free entry into the Black Country museum.
Steve , BCT [00:08:48] How do you now feel about seeing businesses like ours that have developed an industry almost on the back of your design?
Gracie Sheppard [00:08:58] So I think it’s very good. First it was just quite strange to see it so much at the start because obviously when we were designing the flag you didn’t expect it to become such a big thing. But it is really nice to see it everywhere.
Steve , BCT [00:09:14] What did you actually think the significance of winning the competition would be?
Gracie Sheppard [00:09:27] I definitely didn’t realize like how big it would be. I thought it was just ooh that’s nice for a day, then not really think of it again.
Steve , BCT [00:09:30] Was there a moment then when you did realise that actually this is a lot bigger and a lot more culturally important?
Gracie Sheppard [00:09:49] Probably when there was times when. I came into dudley and met the Mayor & when loads of people came together to celebrate Black Country Day, that was when it really hit. & Also just seeing it around everywhere too.
Steve , BCT [00:10:11] What was the weirdest situation you found yourself in because of the flag?
Gracie Sheppard [00:11:06] Probably when I was just at home and I got a phone call and someone said oh Gracie’ s been mentioned on question time. Which was not the best circumstances but that was just as weird to find that I was bought into that.
Steve , BCT [00:11:31] Yeah, so just to give a bit of history to that, in 2015/16 the MP for Wolverhampton, Eleanor Smith spoke out against the Black Country Flag, as she felt the chains were too close to representing slavery & didn’t think it was appropriate for the Black Country to use an image that could cause offence that way.
Steve , BCT [00:12:01] Did you feel hurt or offended by those comments?
Gracie Sheppard [00:12:07] I think originally I did because obviously I was still quite young at that point as well. And when I designed it that thought just completely didn’t cross my mind. So I felt like that’s quite a bad thing to say I had done. Which wasn’t my intention at all. But. then I just thought that most of the other designers had like chains on as well and it was a public vote. So obviously that’s one person’s opinion of a lot of people & alot of people also use it on everything.
Steve , BCT [00:12:49] It’s ad that it did offend you in that way. Hopefully in hindsight the ironic thing about it to me was that it actually ended up having a positive legacy and a beautiful moment for the Black Country because one persons negative comment made so many people way more aware of the flag itself. It mean so many more people um defend it and defend its history and defend you. Actually what happened was is that those comments had a much bigger impact also in terms of promoting the flag and enhanced culture. Far more than anything I think we done um initially beforehand in a positive light. . It almost paraphrased the flag itself using the chain to link people together, to chain the community back together to unite to unite behind it and create something much more meaningful & powerful.
Steve , BCT [00:14:51] So Gracie, we have some people on Facebook .
Steve , BCT [00:15:41] Ian Smith says would you change your design if you could. It is so iconic now?
Gracie Sheppard [00:15:59] I don’t think so. I don’t think about to come up with anything else to be fair (laughs). I. It’s got to go.
Steve , BCT [00:16:08] Question from Andrew Bragg.: Did you think of using any other black country features before using the cone design in the middle?.
Gracie Sheppard [00:16:28] Not really , because the cone is quite close to where I live. So that was always at the forefront of my mind. When I was like really small it was something that I’d regularly visit with my parents. So seemed natural to me.
Steve , BCT [00:17:07] This time a message from Elke Wallace to say please thank and praise Gracie for designing this special amazing flag for our area.
Gracie Sheppard [00:17:18] Thank you.
Steve , BCT [00:17:26] Where’s the weirdest place you’ve seen the flag?
Gracie Sheppard [00:17:41] . Um probably when my sister went travelling when she went to Madagascar and took a photo with it there!
Steve , BCT [00:18:23] Jennie says. what have you been doing since she won the competition?
Gracie Sheppard [00:18:35] Well I finished I finished college in 2018 & have now just finished my 1st year at Warwick University doing Physcology & will just see where that takes me.
Steve , BCT [00:18:23] Thanks for your time Gracie.
Gracie Sheppard [00:19:01] Thank you too.