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SHS to debut new visual symbol inspired by heraldry, university tradition

May 31 2021

"A triple redwood frond slipped," describes in heraldic terms the symbolic redwood frond found in all of Stanford's heraldry.  Inspired by this image, Stanford Historical Society will be updating one of the symbols it uses to represent the organization in the coming months. The imagery of this university-wide symbolism, and interpretive work of designer Kate Matney, is the culmination of committee work over the past year to update the Stanford Historical Society imagery and visuals to more strongly link it to Stanford’s traditions and heritage.





The triple redwood frond represents the organization, transmission, and generation of knowledge that takes place in Stanford’s classroom and labs, according to "Becoming Stanford: The History and Meaning of Stanford’s Insignia," a Sandstone and Tile article from spring 1996.

This heraldic salute became part of the tradition at major Stanford events in the 1960s, after Stanford President J.E. Wallace Sterling asked Chemistry Professor Eric Hutchinson to create official coats of arms and flags. Sterling wanted to find a way to add a festive air to commencement and believed that flags or banners representing the schools would capture that spirit.

British-born Hutchinson, a skilled calligrapher and manuscript illuminator, described heraldry as “a logical system whereby the use of a small number of symbols leads to a complete and unambiguous recognition of a person, a family or an organization.” He set to work contemporizing shapes and symbols of long-standing heraldic traditions  to represent academic disciplines.

The heraldic flags made their first public appearance at the 1967 Commencement ceremony. Now, look for our new application of the triple redwood frond set in an oval in letterhead, posters, newsletter and on our website.