Newport This Week

The Story Behind the Parade Button


One of the unique but perhaps lesser-known traditions of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade is the annual button design process.

Each year, an original button is released honoring the Grand Marshal. Being a year of doubles in 2020, there are two Grand Marshals this year, making the design process twice the fun. Brent Ryan and Derek Luke, founders of Coastal Extreme Brewing Company, now Newport Craft Brewing & Distilling Company, would have shared the honor for this year’s parade.

For the 11th straight year, Salve Regina University faculty member Michael Marshall has the honor of designing these important pieces of parade history. Although his day job is senior network administrator in the Office of Information Technology, Marshall has a background in graphic design and received his undergraduate degree in Electronic Imaging and Photography from UMass-Dartmouth. When the parade committee needed a new designer in 2009, Dan Titus, fellow Salve Regina faculty member and member of the parade committee, asked Marshall if he could step in.


Marshall begins the process by looking into the Grand Marshal’s biography and trying to find a logo that best represents his or her interests. “It is important to be succinct and not too abstract,” he said.

Often, the committee will present him an idea, and then the process of creating several mock-ups begins. After a bit of back-and-forth, the groups settle on a design that fits the honoree.

This year, Marshall was tasked with the challenge of designing a button that represents two different people with different hobbies and interests. To do this, he focused on their shared passion which, of course, is beer. But rather than focus on drinking, the committee asked that he consider the hard work of the two brewers and their craft. From there, the designer got the idea to draw the hops in the shape of a shamrock, along with the barley. With a few adjustments, the design came to fruition.

In addition to hops and barley, two symbols that all brewers know well, this year’s design displays two of the primary colors of the Irish tricolor, green and orange. The hops are delicately rendered and intertwined to form the Irish shamrock. The two stalks of barley, positioned at the bottom like a Greek or Roman radiant crown, cradles the shamrock and represents the two Grand Marshals.

Over the years, the design process has expanded from just a central image and black border. Marshall now factors in screen printing on other promotional items, which has given the parade committee additional means of promoting and fundraising. Some of Marshall’s favorite previous button designs include 2013’s button honoring George Jones and 2018’s honoring Colleen Hastings.

Although Marshall’s designs are an integral part of parade day, he prefers to take part in the festivities from the sidelines, watching from the corner of Broadway in front of Fastnet Pub, preferably on a warm sunny day.

“Honestly, I am much more of a fair-weather parade viewer,” he said.

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