If we are to judge by license plate design, Rhode Island's visual identity is hurling towards the ugliest, tackiest, and most embarrassing car tags in the nation (admittedly, it will be hard to catch up with states like Florida). (See plates below.)
Not only is the handsome "Wave" plate going to be retired for a ho-hum bland "Beautiful" moniker. But the appearance of new charity plates threatens to make a complete joke of the simple identifier function of license plates.
Specialty plates are available to any group that can marshall enough of their supporters to make it worthwhile for the state to manufacture these curious bits of advertising. College alumni, veterans groups, bowling leagues, thinly veiled lobbyists, just about anyone who can gather up around a thousand true believers can apply for a plate. A fee goes to the group, and the DMV does not even have to design these cluttered travesties.
Who could argue that the hospice movement deserves less support. But what, pray tell, is the Home & Hospice Care plate telling us? Officially, the plate offers "an ocean theme." So, we have a dock (it looks like pressure-treated bile-green lumber), an anchor, a couple of birds (souls taking flight over Narragansett?), and an aqua horizon. Perhaps the anchor is to weigh down a body (the victim of a Mafia hit?).
All very confusing, rather than reassuring.The anchor appears in this bureaucratic blah plate, which will raise money for the a law-enforcement memorial. Has anyone noticed how "memorial" crazed we have become–do we need yet another one? Will the $20 fee per plate be enough to pay for the memorial's construction. Or is this another instance of a moniker that tends to protect the vehicle owner – know anyone with a Purple Heart or a Veterans tag who has been ticketed lately? Tugging at our heart strings, but also lowering the design bar another notch, is the Emergency Medical Technician plate.
Again, good people doing important work. Yet, the symbolism of the EKG line across the plate is more trite that clever.What do these plates say about Rhode Island? Not much, except there are a lot of groups who want to raise money and are willing to offend the visually literate among us.
Some might wonder why our capital city, Providence, is called "creative," or even if the Rhode Island School of Design even exists.
But the absolute worst of the state's charity plates is that for the Wildlife Rehabilitators of Rhode Island.Squirrels, deer, and raccoons are endangered? An owl, a generic blue bird, a fox, and an egret complete this septet of critters needing our extra dollars.
Who, you might well ask, designs these kindergarten-art advertisements? In this case, it was a Saunderstown veterinarian, avian surgeon and president of the Wildlife Rehabilitators, Dr. Meredith Bird.
William Morgan is a Providence-based author and architectural historian.