The California Historical Society (CHS) is fortunate to hold in its collection original drawings for the California bear flag by Donald Greame Kelley. In 1952, Kelley was an editor and art director at Pacific Discovery, a journal published by the California Academy of Sciences, when he was commissioned by the State of California to draw a grizzly for the official state flag. Until this commission, various versions of a bear had been used.
Since the California grizzly had been extinct since 1922, it had been difficult to obtain an accurate description to base the drawing on; previous renditions were said to “more resemble a hog or a dog.” Kelley came up with a true-to-life image in collaboration with Tracy Storer, a professor of zoology at UC Davis. The illustrations, memos, and other correspondence between Kelley, Storer, and the office of the Secretary of State enable us to follow the design and approval process as it unfolded. From head to rump, we see all the instructions and adjustments needed to “make a good bear”.
Donald Greame Kelley Materials relating to the California bear flag design 1952–1968 California Historical Society, MS 3996
In June 2022, the Capitol Museum in Sacramento opened the online and in-person exhibit Iconic California: State Symbols that Represent California naming the California grizzly bear as the most recognizable state symbol. Iconic California features selected reproductions from CHS’s Donald Greame Kelley collection. See the online exhibit here.