May 5, 2013

Bob Keyes: Hit the road with Robert Indiana? Could happen with new plate

A specialty license plate honoring Robert Indiana makes too much sense.

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An initiative is under way to create a license plate featuring Robert Indiana’s iconic “LOVE” image.

Courtesy photo

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Robert Indiana in 2008. The artist supports the effort to create a “LOVE” license plate.

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FOR INFORMATION about the Maine Specialty Plate: The State of the Arts, visit mainecrafts.org/programs/license-plate.

Indiana's life story includes a long fascination with roads and travel. His father worked for Phillips 66, and the pop artist has been romantically drawn to the open road all his life.

That draw brought him to Maine in 1969, about as far away from the open road as possible. He's now 84 and still living off the coast at Vinalhaven island.

If enough people plunk down $29, Maine will issue a license plate honoring him and his iconic "LOVE" sculpture, which he first created in graphic form in 1958 and later in steel.

The piece -- upper-case letters arranged in a square with a slanted "O" and the "LO" stacked on top of the "VE" -- was installed at Central Park in New York City in 1969, and became a symbol for a generation. Later, the U.S. Postal Service issued a "LOVE" stamp.

The image is known worldwide, and has kept Indiana in the public view for most of the last half-century.

The license plate initiative is a collaborative effort involving the Maine Crafts Association and the Maine Arts Commission, with a lot of input from Indiana's mainland liaison, Kathleen Rogers of Ellsworth.

At Indiana's urging, Rogers has been working on a "LOVE" license plate for about a decade. At the same time, the Maine Crafts Association has wanted to create a plate to call attention to Maine's long history with craft.

When Donna McNeil, the previous director of the Maine Arts Commission, heard that the crafts association was thinking about a license plate, she made a phone call and asked, "Have you thought about Bob Indiana?"

"In fact, I hadn't thought of him," said Sadie Bliss, executive director of Maine Crafts. "I didn't have any direct connection to him."

But the idea was too good and almost too obvious to not give serious consideration.

One day last January, Bliss, McNeil and Rogers made the trek out to Vinalhaven to talk to Indiana about the idea.

"It turned out to be a great match at the right time. I think it's a powerful and positive image that people connect with," she said.

The plate includes the "LOVE" icon at the far left, its letters in light red with a soft green and blue background. Other than the plate numbers, the only lettering includes "Maine" and "The State of the Arts."

Bliss hopes artists and arts supporters will embrace the idea and sign up for the plate. It costs $29, but won't be issued until 2,000 people sign up and pay for it.

If 2,000 people put up the money, the plates will be issued. After that, the Maine Crafts Association will get $10 for each new plate.

Bliss is cautiously optimistic.

"I didn't have any worries until I talked to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, and they said that not many people succeed in these efforts. But I think it's a really cool plate, and I am hoping the stars will align."

The campaign began last week. On the first day the plate became available, about 30 people signed up. Rogers said she was the first.

Indiana is gratified with the effort, she said.

He loves living in Maine, and appreciates the support he has received here, Rogers said. In 2005, Indiana donated a painting titled "First State" to the State House in Augusta.

In 2008, a "HOPE" sculpture similar to the "LOVE" sculpture was unveiled at the Democratic National Convention, and proceeds from the sale of reproductions of the "HOPE" image were donated to the Obama presidential campaign.

This is a big year for Indiana. On Sept. 26, less than two weeks after the artist's 85th birthday, the Whitney Museum of American Art will open a retrospective exhibition, "Robert Indiana: Beyond Love."

"Bob is very happy about that," Rogers said. "For a long time, he has said it was his goal to have a New York retrospective. He would like to see his autobiography written, and he would like to see this license plate happen.

"The autobiography has not happened yet. But two of the three will happen this year, and that's a wonderful thing."

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:

bkeyes@pressherald.com

Twitter: pphbkeyes

 

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