I was born in 1967, and the first license plate I remember paying attention to was a royal blue with yellow letters. Sometime in the 1970's, they reversed the colors to blue on yellow. I was always sentimental, though, for a plate that came before my time--when they included the tempting slogan "Pacific Wonderland" along the bottom.
It was about 20 years ago when Oregon got its first pictorial license plate. I don't know if every state did it this way, but there was a state-wide contest, as my memory serves me. I was working my first full time job at the time at a company that made ceramic jewelry. We all hunched over our respective tables doing very repetitive tasks, but it was an interesting bunch of people and we kept a pretty lively conversation going most of the time. One of the people in the room was from central Oregon originally and he brought up a very good point about the license plate contest: how can you pick one icon that represents a state that has ocean, mountains, cities, high desert, canyons, a river gorge, and many many small rural towns? The image they settled on, which is still in use today does serve the majority of the state's population, which has settled on either side of the Cascade mountain range, but there are still many Oregonians who don't have a snow-capped mountain in their vistas.
From a design standpoint, I really like the tree plates. I don't know how to find an image of the early model to show you, but I do remember that they did a slight adjustment on the original design--I think they made the tree darker? (Anyone out there remember this???) It makes sense that there must be some difference between the original design and what ends up on the actual plate, after all the committee decisions and materials limitations that are inevitably part of any bureaucratic attempt at creative endeavors.
Case in point: I am a big proponent of the Oregon Cultural Trust license plates, but the artwork they chose for their fundraising license plate is not representative for me of the best our state has to offer. Their website states: "Rather than attempting to represent "culture" through specific images, or emphasizing one cultural sector over another, the Oregon Cultural Trust chose a design that is bold, abstract and distinctive." The end result, for me at least, is something that looks like nothing--it might as well be the surface of a Kleenex box in its noncommital color fluctuations. (Despite this, when Christian asked, I recommended the Cultural Trust plates because the money goes to a great cause and I think the orange tones look great on his steely silver car.) If I got to pick the artwork, I would probably give James Lavadour the offical tap on the shoulder. His renderings of Oregon landscapes have such a nice abstract quality, although I can't say for sure that the printing process wouldn't butcher all of the lovely detail of his original handiwork.
Yesterday I noticed on the Oregonian's website that they have been conducting an unofficial contest for a new state flag. I don't particularly mind our current flag--it has the same charm for me that the old Pacific Wonderland license plates had, and I'm happy keeping it the same. At the same time, it was interesting to look at the ten entries they published online and read the design process blurbs submitted by each artist. I picked out a few of my faves for you here, but if you want to see the entire article and vote for your favorite, click here.
John Mothershead, 50, Milwaukie
The process: "I've always had an interest in flags, doodling flags here and there and I saw the contest and said, 'Ooh, that's for for me.' " What it means: The green and gold quarters symbolize agriculture and the land. The wavy blue and white quarters symbolize the ocean and rivers. I wanted to make it flashy where it would stand out.
Douglas Lynch, 95, Northwest Portland, professional designer
The process: Commissioned to design the city of Portland's flag, he also noodled around with one for the state, and came up with this. Lynch still draws by hand and calls himself "B.C. Before computer. I'm computer illiterate." What it means: Green is for the agriculture. Gold is for the desert or wheat. And the two parts of the state are separated by the snow-capped mountains.
Gerald H. Black , 74, Warrenton, retired
The process: When Black thought about what best said Oregon, he imagined snow-capped peaks of the Cascades, the golden hills of wheat and the painted hills. He wanted a simple design to easily reproduced. What it means: Mount Hood dominates against a blue sky. The horizontal green stripe represents the forests and agricultural areas; the gold stripe represents the wheat fields and high deserts.
Thomas Lincoln, 69, Springfield, semi-retired graphic designer
The process: "I was going for continuity because a radical change in the flag will be a hard sell." What it means: Beaver would be singular to Oregon and make our flag distinctive. The colors tie to the blue and gold of the current flag. He wanted to evolve and upgrade it, not totally change it.