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World

Nebraska Halts Production of Widely Mocked License Plate

Critics called it boring, but also sexually suggestive

Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles Director Rhonda Lahm poses next to a design for the the state’s new standard license plate, Photo: AP/Anna Gronewold
2 years ago

LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska is halting production of its new, widely mocked license plate after officials learned that the state icon depicted at the center wasn’t drawn accurately, officials announced Friday.

The license plate is supposed to show the Nebraska Sower, a statue of a man throwing seeds from atop the state Capitol. However, the governor’s office said the image on the plates used elements from a different artwork.

Since the design was unveiled last week, some people have called it boring. Others have joked that the way the man in the image is holding his grain satchel appears sexually suggestive.

It was just a mistake on my part. There’s no conspiracy around it. In 2002, there weren’t a lot of great pictures of the sower online. That was one of the more detailed ones.”

-Jeff Hedt, artist behind boring, sexually suggestive license plate

Department of Motor Vehicles Director Rhonda Lahm said the state will redesign the plates to correctly depict the statue “so that production can resume in the near future.” The new plates will be issued starting in 2017 as part of Nebraska’s 150th birthday as a state.

The decision to halt production was first reported by the Omaha World-Herald.

State officials used an image that was submitted for a 2002 license plate contest. The artist, 43-year-old Jeff Heldt of Omaha, said he mistakenly used an image he found online from a relief sculpture on Michigan State University’s campus in East Lansing.

“It was just a mistake on my part,” Heldt said in an interview. “There’s no conspiracy around it. In 2002, there weren’t a lot of great pictures of the sower online. That was one of the more detailed ones.”

Bernie Sanders speaks in Arizona, home to the border wall and boring/sexually suggestive license plates. Photo: Associated Press

Bernie Sanders speaks in Arizona, home to the border wall and boring/sexually suggestive license plates. Photo: AP

Heldt didn’t realize his artwork from the 2002 contest was used for the new plate until he read a newspaper article about the design. He dug through his files and discovered it was his image. The man in his image is holding his grain satchel differently than the figure on the state Capitol.

Gov. Pete Ricketts “appreciates the designer stepping forward to explain the sources he used to develop the submission,” Ricketts spokesman Taylor Gage said.

Nebraska’s process for selecting license plates has faced problems before. In 2009, the DMV invited the public to vote in an online poll to choose from four design proposals. But the department threw out thousands of votes after discovering that a minimalist approach initially won only because a humor website had urged people to choose the most boring option.

Nebraska law requires the DMV to issue a new standard license plate every six years. The state’s current plates depict a meadowlark and goldenrod.

The new plate is navy and gold, the colors of the state flag. It also shows the years 1867 through 2017, reflecting Nebraska’s 150 years of statehood.

The DMV has said it expects to produce about 5.2 million plates with a new design between 2017 and 2022.

GRANT SCHULTE

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