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Saturday, September 2, 2023

The Man and His Arms: An Origin Story

The arms of Chad M. Krouse emblazoned in a Spanish-style by Dr. Antonio Salmeron (ES).

In light of several posts regarding the arms of two of my alma maters, I thought it appropriate to share my journey into the world of heraldry.  I used to be somewhat embarrassed about my passion for heraldry.  It's an arcane subject that most Americans wrongly associate with aristocratic impulses.  I feared that others might interpret my interest as a way to portray myself as something that I am not.  Over the years, thankfully, I was able to shed those unfounded fears.   

I am a visual learner.  I lean on my confluence skills, sifting for patterns and common themes in data--it's a gift I have and one I certainly didn't ask for.  Add to this my love of symbology and extracting meaning and identification through otherwise abstract ideas and images.  Perhaps this is why I was drawn to heraldry.

It all began as a freshman at Hampden-Sydney College back in 1998.  I was enamoured by the college's coat of arms, and I literally spent all of my high school graduation gift money in the College Bookstore on just about everything emblazoned with those arms.  Yes, I'll even admit to ordering my college ring as a freshman simply because I wanted to proudly wear those beautiful arms--fortunately my investment was proven upon graduation.  Click here to learn about Hampden-Sydney College's coat of arms.  

Following my undergraduate studies, I started to take a keen interest in the study of heraldry, purchasing loads of books on the subject.  My first work was to design arms within a vesica piscis for my local parish, Johns Memorial Episcopal Church.  Because the parish already had an existing banner containing an otherwise generic coat of arms, I had no choice but to run with that design in order to get the seal approved by the Rector and Vestry.  The blazon for the arms of Johns Memorial Episcopal Church:  gules an agnus dei carrying a resurrection banner proper.  Admittedly, there are some issues with this coat, but nonetheless, you have to begin your heraldic journey somewhere.  I learned a lot about proposing such things before committees, and yes, it's a dangerous thing.
The seal of Johns Memorial Episcopal Church in Farmville, Virginia.  Designed by the author in 2006 and emblazoned by Dr. Richard McClintock, Hampden-Sydney College.

I was extremely fortunate to attend the School of Theology at the University of the South for seminary, where I earned a master of divinity degree.  Sewanee, as it's simply called, is an Episcopal university high atop the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee.  Gothic architecture dominates the landscape and serves as the perfect backdrop for heraldry.  While Sewanee's heraldry was cleverly designed in 1981 by French Professor Dr. James Waring McCrady (b.1938), the shields were not in use, bowing to the popularity of the university's seal (also set within a vesica piscis) prominently emblazoned on the floor inside the vestibule of All Saints' Chapel.  I would have to say that my time at Sewanee truly catapulted my heraldic interest to the next level.  Click here to read about the arms of the School of Theology, The University of the South.

A non-heraldic seal for the Sewanee Society of Our Lady of Walsingham, a short-lived student group at the seminary, designed by the author 2009.

In a small way, I was able to give something back to Sewanee by way of heraldry.  As my interest grew in the subject, I wanted to see how Sewanee's heraldry would look displayed as banners.  Given all the pomp and circumstance of university ceremonies, I felt deep in my gut that there was a way to increase the visibility of McCrady's work.  I posted several line drawings of banners here in September 2014, knowing full well no one in the world would take notice.  I was wrong.  

A line drawing correctly displaying McCrady's 1981 design for the arms of the University of the South, designed by the author, Sept. 19, 2014.

The Rev. Robertson "Rob" C. Donehue T'16, a seminarian at the time at the School of Theology, saw my post and sparked several conversations about Sewanee's heraldry.  Rob's passion for Sewanee's heraldry, along with his savy leadership, brought my humble sketches into reality.  My dream of seeing Sewanee's heraldry come alive and "fly," was simply made possible by Rob.  By the university's Easter 2015 commencement, all three banners were up and flying (The Sewanee Purple, April 16, 2016, website).  Please click here to read The Sewanee Purple's article.  I am incredibly thankful for Father Rob and the work he did as a seminarian.  To this day, we still correspond on occasion about these very topics.  

By 2014, I was deeply engrossed in researching my family genealogy.  My motivation was simple:  I wanted to share with my children who we are and where we come from in this wide world we inhabit.  Through my research, I joined a number of hereditary societies:  The Sons of the American Revolution, the Sons of the Revolution, the Order of First Families of Massachusetts, the Order of First Families of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, and the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States.  All this research got me thinking about designing and adopting my own arms as a way to honor my newfound discoveries.

My research muse, Pierre de Chaignon la Rose (1872-1941), photograph from his Harvard Class of 1895 yearbook.  Image source Harvard Archives.  

As a researcher, I went looking for resources about how to design arms in accordance with the strict customs of heraldry.  Lo and behold, I kept running into a most unusual name, Pierre de Chaignon la Rose (1872-1941).  Throughout my seminary studies, I identified with the Anglo-Catholic movement within the Church of England--a story rife with historical "fringe figures" complete with equally colorful personalities.  It was no wonder, then, that my fascination with la Rose took off.  Now going on ten years of research, I am extremely grateful to la Rose for a number of reasons.  I learned through his work to appreciate the art and science of heraldry, and I mean good heraldry.  I credit la Rose for giving me the tools to create my own arms.

As a son of West Virginia, and now an adopted one of the Commonwealth of Virginia, I knew I wanted two key elements:  the dogwood flower and the cardinal.  As a lover of irony, the cardinal is the official bird for both states, and you can readily spot these brightly colored, majestic creatures taking flight in both areas.  Furthermore, I love "canting" arms, or using charges within a shield that play upon the arminger's name.  Thus, I knew I had to use the cross attributed to Saint Chad of Mercia (d. 672).  Saint Chad is truly my aspirational saint, a humble man who walked his diocese (refusing to ride horseback) with grace and even turned over his see in a demonstration of obedience. 

In the spirit of humility, an early draft of my arms in 2014.  Through this rather busy and unattractive design, you can see where I'm heading as I arrived at my final version.

Furthermore, I wanted my arms to be layered in a distinctly English sort of way.  The barry wavy lines of six became a logical solution, for it represents my love of water, fishing, and just about anything fun to do on lakes, rivers, and streams (ironically, I'm not a huge fan of the ocean on account of Jaws).  After multiple drafts--some decent, some horrible--I finally arrived on a design that I could live with.  

My very first digital emblazonment, rendered by Steve Cowan (CA) in 2014.

As I began joining various heraldry groups, I oozed envy over seeing all the beautiful digital emblazonments that armingers had commissioned.  While poor at the time, I wanted my own!  I connected with Steve Cowan, a heraldic artist in Canada who was so gracious and patient with me.  A link to Cowan's website and portfolio can be found under "websites of interest."  Once I received the emblazonment above, I proudly shared my arms within those groups.  And that's where I learned my first lesson:  blazons should be very specific.

The dogwood flowers in the shield above are distinctive of the species found in Canada, not the cornus florida variety which is the official state flower of Virginia.  I was incredibly embarrassed that I missed this key detail--it wasn't Cowan's fault, I simply needed to specify my blazon.  We quickly corrected this mistake and I learned the true importance of the blazon in heraldry.

The corrected cornus florida, emblazoned by Steve Cowan (CA).

And that's how I arrived at my final blazon:  Per chevron Gules and barry wavy Argent and Azure, in chief two dogwood flowers (Cornus Florida) Proper and in base a cross of Saint Chad of the first.
The next mistake I would make would be found within my motto.  I wanted my motto, "I make right," rendered in German to honor my fifth generation German-American ancestry.  I developed the motto to reflect my desire to "make right" all the wrongs I have (or may) done in the course of my existence.  I foolishly turned to Google where I landed with ICH MACHE RECHTE.  To this day, any German-speaking person reads this as, "I make laws."  It's imperfect, just like me.  As I would later learn the true translation, I decided to keep it for that very reason.

A rather ferocious cardinalis cardinalis
The crest of Chad M. Krouse, emblazoned by Steve Cowan (CA).

For my crest, I knew I wanted the cardinal and the madonna lily.  Again, I learned that the blazon must specify the type of bird lest it suggest some poor and unfortunate Roman Catholic prelate's head had been ripped off.

The blazon for my crest is: a cardinal's head (Cardinalis cardinalis) erased clutching in its beak a Madonna lily (Lilium Candidum) seeded Proper.  While the cardinal has been covered, I wanted to incorporate a symbol for the Blessed Virgin Mary as depicted in the image and vision of Our Lady of Walsingham (England).  It seemed fitting to have the bird clutch the seeding flower--a image of growth and vitality. 
The coronet of dogwood flowers (cornus florida) and fleur-de-lis along with the motto,
 emblazoned by Quentin Peacock (UK).

During the ill-timed COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, I wanted to create a heraldic badge and update my emblazonments.  I commissioned Quentin Peacock in England, who is rapidly becoming the expert artist for all things British heraldry.  With Peacock's expertise, we agreed on a coronet of dogwood flowers (cornus florida) and fleur-de-lis to encircle three madonna lilies.  I simply love my badge!  Click here to read the full details on my arms as they appear in the International Armorial Register.
The banner, arms, and badge of Chad M. Krouse, beautifully emblazoned by Quentin Peacock (UK).
Finally, during those dark and lonely days of lockdown, I leaned into heraldry as a way to highlight social injustice in our country.  I devised attributed arms for the Black Lives Matter Movement to visually portray the struggles many women and men of color face each day in our society.  The blazon I created: Argent a fist couped Sable flaunches Gules masoned of the field, on a chief Vert a demi dove displayed of the first auerled Or.  I was shocked that my work went viral!  Through these arms, I tried to show not only how extremely relevant heraldry is in our common human experience, but to make a contribution of hope.  I appreciated all the great feedback I received from this project.  Click here to read about the attributed arms for the Black Lives Matter Movement.

The attributed arms of the Black Lives Matter Movement, designed by Chad M. Krouse and emblazoned by Dimitri Prica, June 10, 2020.

My origin story of heraldry is uniquely my own and rather reflective of my journey in life.  While I'll continue to make mistakes as any human will, I endeavor to learn from them to make things right.  The journey led me to discover one of my passions in life, heraldry, and also gave me a research focus on the life and heraldic work of la Rose.  More importantly, I have connected and befriended so many enthusiasts of heraldry all over the world.  I cherish these friendships and connections.

My task, now, is crystal clear: to share la Rose's work with the world in order to give him the credit he truly deserves.  The goal is to publish a book, complete with my findings in the near term.  I even have an amazing research assistant now, an undergraduate student at Virginia Commonwealth University, where I earned my doctoral degree and continue to serve in a professional capacity.  
The arms of Chad M. Krouse, emblazoned in the inimitable style of Sivane Saray (BE).

In so many weird and unexpected ways, heraldry has given me a deeper sense of purpose along with a tangible goal.  I'm having the time of life.  ICH MACHE RECHTE!