John Burnham

Design is the Organization of Space

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Burnham Family Crest

The Saga of the Burnham Family Crest

The Burnham family name dates back to medieval England, and is most commonly thought to be derived from the Olde English words burna meaning "stream" and ham meaning "homestead." Coincidentally I grew up in Riverside, Illinois, a small Chicago suburb along the DesPlaines River. 

There are a few ancient Burnham family coats of arms, one of which depicts three disembodied lion heads and sometimes a disembodied leopard head and a disembodied knight's head, on a shield with a "chevron":

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Trivia: This coat of arms design is officially described as, "Gu. a chev. betw. three lions' heads erased, or. Crest- A leopard's head erased ppr." in The general armory of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales by Sir Bernard Burke.

My extended family is quite large, so I thought it would be best to focus on my immediate family. I created a moodboard with elements I thought would be most relevant to our family as well as to our ethnic heritage, England (father) and Belgium (mother).

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Although my family and I harbor no disdain for England or Belgium, none of us really identifies culturally with either country. I focused more on elements that are pertinent to our family such as art, photography, water, fish, and dogs. I carried over the chevron as a nod to the English coat of arms. 

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Font

Since "Burnham" is an English surname I thought a blackletter font was appropriate, but I didn't want an "old" feeling. I also wanted something bold but readable. I settled on "Moderne Fette Schwalbacher" by Peter Wiegel:

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Laurel

For the laurel, I used the outside shape from a simple leaf graphic I designed for another project and followed Aaron's example of creating a curved array.

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Symbols

I chose symbols to represent dogs, photography, water/fish/Michigan, and art.

Dog head: Represents the dogs we had growing up, the last being a Black Labrador named "Hijack."

Camera: Dad has been a lifelong amateur photographer, and has passed his love of photography along to his children. The camera symbol is modeled after a Nikon SLR camera he bequeathed to me when I was a teenager. It may still be in the family somewhere.

Fish: Our summer home was in a small town in Northern Michigan, and fish figured prominently in our meals. Plus, my sister began her career studying the fish of the Great Lakes. This fish is a lake trout.

Boat: the boat is a representation of the fish tug Janice Sue. Fish tugs were widely used by early 20th century commercial fishing operations on the Great Lakes. The Janice Sue is still in use today for a small commercial fishing operation based in Leland, Michigan.

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One More Element

So, at this point I have represented our common family interests and experiences of dogs, photography, water and fish, but the "art" part seemed one element too many for the shield. Our artisitc/creative streak is the most prominent family trait, so I added a combination of a pallette, brush, and dip pen to represent the primary talent that binds our family. I think it would also make a good family pirate flag.

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Pulling it all together

The first attempt at putting the family crest together revealed a balance issue with the elements at the top of the shield, which I solved by changing the shape of the fish. The more active depiction of the trout and the rearrangement of the order helps the balance of white space better directs the eye. I also played with the contrast of the chevron using a wave pattern (which helps solidify the water subtext), but I found the vertical stripes behind the dog head a little too busy.

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The Amusing Saying

My father has had a lot of sayings throughout the years. One saying he often recites to this day is "Every day's a joy, some days are more joyous than others." I chose the shortened version (Every day's a joy) which is usually his response to someone whining about something.

The final product

Assembling everything took me through a few iterations in order to get the proportions and balance right. I also combined the chevron with a "cross" to separate the elements a little and provide some options for possible color. In one color version I used red and gold, which I have seen on color versions of the English Burnham coat of arms. The Belgium flag colors are black, gold, and red, so these colors also serve to bring in the Belgium heritage from my mom's side of the family.

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