Best Plate of 2020: Oklahoma
By Gus Oliver #8407, Best Plate Award Coordinator
Oklahoma won this year’s Best Plate Award by a significant margin with the Save the Monarch Butterfly license plate. This is the fourth time Oklahoma has won this award. The first time, Oklahoma tied with Nova Scotia in 1989 with the Osage Battle Shield general issue. Then it won in 2004 with the State Park Pavilion plate, followed by the Archer general issue in 2009.
This plate was sponsored by The Nature Conservatory of Oklahoma (NCO), a nonprofit organization which also sponsored the Pioneer of the Prairie (Bison) license plate that came in 4th place in the 2016 competition. Almost 500 of these plates have been issued since last summer. The annual cost is $35, plus an initial mailing fee of $5 and $1.55 every year thereafter for renewals. For both the Monarch and the Bison plates, the NCO receives $20 for each new plate and each renewal. In three years, the Bison plate has become the fourth highest selling fund-raiser special plate, and NCO hopes the Monarch will enjoy similar success. The Monarch plate is only available as a pre-numbered tag, but legislation has been proposed to allow it to be personalized like the Bison plate.
In May 2019, Governor Kevin Stitt signed Senate Bill 170, authorizing the creation of the monarch-themed license plate to “honor and raise awareness about the magnificent monarch.” NCO solicited voluntary designs from a local artist and held an online contest in which more than 12,800 Oklahomans voted for their favorite of six Monarch-themed license plate designs. The design by Rick Sinnett of Mustang, Oklahoma, won with 3,382 votes. His vivid design features a Monarch butterfly in the center of the plate with an abstract sunset in the background and milkweed flowers in the foreground. (Milkweed is one of the best host plants for Monarchs.) The butterfly was moved to the left side of the plate for the actual plates that were produced.
After notifying Rick Sinnett that his winning design had been chosen by ALPCA, he issued this statement: “I had been aiming to create a license plate for the State of Oklahoma for quite some time when I was presented with the opportunity to create a plate in collaboration with the Nature Conservancy. It was a contest between several artist/designers and just so happened that my monarch butterfly design won by popular vote. To learn that the “Save the Monarchs” license plate has been voted as best license plate of 2020 in the world is just icing on the cake. I’m speechless!”
Mike Fuhr, State Director of NCO, released this statement: “Wow! This is an incredible honor for The Nature Conservancy’s Oklahoma Monarch butterfly license plate to be nationally recognized by the ALPCA. Monarch butterflies represent endurance, change, hope, life, and Oklahoma’s breathtaking prairies. Unfortunately, their populations have plummeted at an alarming rate. Our intent is for the license plate to raise awareness about the important role monarchs and other native pollinators play in our food production and the need for more miles of milkweed and wildflowers. Many thanks to the ALPCA members for voting for our rad plate!”
NCO works to save the monarchs by conserving critical pollinator habitat throughout Oklahoma and teaming up with a broad range of groups, including farmers, ranchers, tribes, residents, government agencies, businesses, gardeners, artists and municipalities. In addition, it is a founding member of the Oklahoma Monarch and Pollinator Collaborative, a statewide group of 40-plus organizations and citizens working together to ensure thriving monarch migrations for generations to come. The Nature Conservancy is an international organization and each of the states and other countries operates as a single business unit by fundraising and managing their budgets locally but are a single organization. They add the state or country name afterwards to signify the location.
Our members’ comments on the Monarch plate were interesting. Ironically, the comments by a few of our members on why they did not vote for this plate were like the comments of those who voted it as their first choice. A few commented they did not vote for this plate because it was too colorful or too busy, while Steve Schneefuss (#9339) listed this as his first choice stating, “But the colors! Lots of them and they are bright. A plate to give most everyone a smile.” David Wilson (#3035) commented, “Unfortunately, ‘legibility and attractiveness’ as the main criterion work against most of the nominations. The most attractive are not well legible, and the most legible are not very attractive…” That is a pretty accurate generalization. Sometimes it is a matter of deciding which plates have the best balance between both criteria. Gary Irish (#641) commented, “While a bit busy, it is a striking graphic, and still very legible.” George Balsamo (#3562) remarked, “Bright, balanced color, with adequate contrast.” However, a few felt the design interfered with the legibility. One commented that he did not like this plate because it looked like it is from the 1970s, while Schneefuss further stated, “Best plate for any 60’s VW Love Bug or bus.” When I relayed Schneefuss’ remark to Katie Hawks, the Director of Marketing for NCO, she responded, “I cannot tell a lie…I have one of these on my VW Eurovan (small motorhome on a VW chassis).” Despite some of the controversy, the membership preferred this over the others. From the comments, I gather than most people either like it or dislike it, with not much middle ground, but this plate is one you will definitely notice on any car.
I have generally said little in the past about how the Best Plate Award Competition unfolded, but thought I would add this for those who are interested. Every year, I have experienced days when the paper ballots and/or online voting would heavily favor one particular state one day and another the next. There has always been a difference in the voting patterns of those who mail paper ballots versus those who vote by email. While keeping up with the votes on a daily basis, I find it interesting to see what changes will come with that day’s ballots. When I started receiving the ballots, a three-way battle immediately emerged between Pennsylvania, Alabama and Oklahoma with New York not far behind. Pennsylvania took the lead with the initial wave of online voting, but Oklahoma caught up within a few days with the arrival of the first paper ballots. All three exchanged the lead several times until Oklahoma started pulling ahead significantly. Alabama started closing up the gap, passing Pennsylvania, only to have Pennsylvania started catching up again. Neither was ever able to overtake Oklahoma. Meanwhile, New York generally stayed not too far behind whichever state was in third place. The other five plates received significantly fewer votes.
Every year, a few members express their feelings that generalissue plates are the only plates that should be considered, but the consensus is that this competition should be open to all plates from around the world regardless of jurisdiction or what type of vehicle it is registered to. In other words, any new license plate issued to any form of vehicle by a legal licensing authority is eligible to compete. How can we say that a plate is the best new license plate in the world if we exclude most of them from competing? A few also commented on their ballots and/or Facebook that they were disappointed in the selections, but went on to mention several plates that they felt should have been included on the ballot. If a plate is not nominated, it will not be on the ballot no matter how great the plate is. This is why I emphasize that each member needs to nominate their favorite plate. Then there would be more, and presumably better, selections. I might add that if only general-issue plates were included, the selection would be rather poor most years.
At this time, it is not yet known if we will be able to make a physical presentation to the State of Oklahoma and NCO, but I will advise on the ALPCA Announce List, or email me if you are interested in attending if we are able to do so. (There was no physical presentation to Oregon for last year’s award due to COVID-19 as the state shut down everything non-essential and would not even make the plates for the plaques. Nevertheless, we improvised and mailed awards to the sponsor, Keep Oregon Green, and the designer, DHX Advertising.)
I would like to thank everyone who participated in any way, including voting, and hope those who did not vote this year will do so in the future. You have another opportunity to vote in an even more meaningful way with the election of ALPCA officers. Be sure to read up on the candidates in this issue and vote. For more information on Nature Conservancy, visit their website at nc.org.
MORE ON THE ARTIST
Rick Sinnett is known for the huge, vibrant murals he has painted around the state, although he has had no formal training. One, near the revitalized Bricktown area of Oklahoma City, measures 100 by 128 feet and took two years to complete. Some of his larger murals cost $100,000 or more. It comes as no surprise that some of his murals include butterflies, so this plate was second nature to him. Also known by the pseudonym MothMan, this self-proclaimed folk artist creates more than just murals. His large body of work expands into prints, apparel and items like textiles and guitar pedals. The hashtag #arforthepeople, appears frequently on his Moth Collection Facebook and Instagram accounts. On the back of 8-1/2” x 11” prints he used to sell, he included his mission statement along with a return address where buyers could send him a reply. He was astonished by the responses, even collecting several international letters. “It was more than selling art, it was feeding my soul.” More of his murals can be seen at TravelOK.com