Click the Image to Enlarge

Embroiderers Guild of America Indiana State Seal, 1976


The official seal of the State of Indiana is a device to mark government documents as authentic. Both the 1816 and 1851 state constitutions provide for a seal to “be kept by the Governor for official purposes.” No legal description of the seal existed until 1963, when the General Assembly finally documented its specifics as the “Seal of the State of Indiana.”

Various versions of the scene on the seal have been found on territorial papers of William Henry Harrison as early as 1801. The origin of the scene has not been determined. There is also no agreement about the symbolism of the design, although both serious and comic attempts at interpretation have been made. Thomas Marshall, governor from 1909 to 1913 and well known for his wit, reportedly said that the seal meant to him that one had to get up very early to see a buffalo in Indiana. From a more serious perspective, Jacob Piatt Dunn, in Indiana and Indianans (1919, vol. 1), describes “a sun rising on a new commonwealth, west of the mountains, by which, at that time, was always meant the Allegheny Mountains. The woodman represented civilization subduing the wilderness; and the buffalo, which in the original was headed away from the sun, with tail down, going west, and not east, represented the primitive life retiring in that direction before the advance of civilization.”

It is important to remember that the seal is a utilitarian device. While its scene contains many symbolic items, there is no exact interpretation of their meaning. In addition, there is no color scheme established in the official description because the seal is embossed on paper. The design typically is seen only in outline when used on publications or stationery. The official seal is a circle 2 5/8″ in diameter.

  • Indiana State Seal, 1976
  • 4′ diameter
  • State of Indiana, Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites
  • Keywords: textiles, wall hangings, embroidery
  • Subjects: outdoors, trees, men, tools, wild animals, appliqué

The Indianapolis Chapter of the Embroiderers’ Guild of America, established in 1974, designed and executed this version of the seal as a project for the Bicentennial of the American Revolution. It was presented to the Indiana State Museum in 1976. Twenty-five to 30 people worked on the piece using 12 to 15 types of stitches. Notice that the use of different stitches creates varied textures on the surface.

The body of the buffalo has been created in the traditional needlework tent stitch. The mane of the buffalo is given a different texture by use of a plied loop, the turkey knot stitch. The grass is given another texture, more appropriate to its appearance, by an elongated stitch. The woodman is done in 40-count stitches (40 stitches to the inch, requiring use of a magnifying glass) with silk gauze. The figure was appliquéd onto the background.

Some Points To Consider

  • Ask students how the State Seal represents the geography and characteristics of Indiana. In what way is this seal similar to a logo? (Art 4.1.1, 4.1.3)
  • Provide reference books or allow computer time for students to find symbols or icons in other works of art and compare them to the State Seal. Ask them to describe how they would use symbols and subject matter to design a new seal for Indiana. What changes would they make? (Art 4.1.3)