LINCOLN — Nebraska’s iconic Sower will grace Nebraska’s next license plate — but critics say the image is bland at best and bordering on erotic at worst.

The new standard plate features the Sower, which is a statue atop the State Capitol, pulling grain from a pouch and throwing it.

The plate also has a navy blue stripe, “Nebraska” in gold lettering, and the years 1867 and 2017, a nod to Nebraska’s 150th birthday next year.

Gov. Pete Ricketts said the plate incorporates “a lot of things that are unique to Nebraska.” The Sower represents agriculture, and the navy and gold colors match the Nebraska state flag.

But people took to the Internet to complain that the design is too boring, uses colors too closely associated with University of Michigan or is too obscure for people outside of the state to grasp.

Some even went so far as to suggest that the Sower image has a sexual connotation, saying it appears that he is sowing a different kind of seed.

“I know what it is supposed to be,” wrote one commenter, “but it looks like a creepy guy pulling open his pants.”

Through a spokesman, the governor rebuffed the criticism, saying the Sower is a well-recognized Nebraska icon that for decades has stood atop of the State Capitol. It is “entirely appropriate” to use the image on the state license plate, spokesman Taylor Gage said.

“It’s unfortunate that some are disparaging this symbol, which is emblematic of our state’s agricultural heritage,” he said.

Complaints about the state’s license plate are nothing new.

In 2009, state officials let an online vote decide among four designs for the new standard plates. But a humor website asked followers to cast online ballots for what it called the most boring design, and that design won the vote.

Officials then recounted the votes and declared a different plate, one with a goldenrod and meadowlark, as the winner.

Beverly Reicks, who led the Department of Motor Vehicles at that time, said the process, with or without public input, is never without controversy.

“People take a lot of ownership” of their license plates, said Reicks, now the president and CEO of the National Safety Council in Nebraska. “They put it on their personal vehicles, so maybe it feels like it’s something that makes a statement about them.”

Not all the chatter about this year’s plates was negative; some people on Tuesday praised the minimalist approach, saying it will be easy for law enforcement to read.

This year’s plates were created by the Department of Motor Vehicles staff and graphic design personnel from license plate vendor 3M. The governor gave final approval.

State law requires that new license plates be issued every six years.

Designer Drew Davies, who owns Oxide Design Co. in Omaha, said the ideas behind the plate are intriguing but were carried out poorly.

“There are a lot of things that are unclear about it,” he said. “There’s a spark of a good idea there, but the execution could’ve used a professional involved.”

Part of the problem, said artist Larry Ferguson, chairman of the Omaha Public Art Commission, is that it’s difficult to replicate a statue in a simple design for a license plate.

“It just does not work,” he said. “It’s terrible. I’ve had friends even email me from Hawaii saying what in the heck is wrong with the design of the plate?”

The new plates will be issued starting in January 2017. They will replace the plates featuring a goldenrod sprig and meadowlark, the state flower and state bird.

A plate featuring the Sower has been suggested in years past, said Rhonda Lahm, director of the Department of Motor Vehicles. She expects that more than five million plates featuring the Sower will be made.

There are alternatives to the standard plate. New this year are mountain lion conservation plates, available Oct. 1, and Nebraska sesquicentennial plates, which are available now. Specialty plates cost more than the standard plates.

Ricketts called the new plate “beautiful.” While his wife has a specialty sesquicentennial license plate, he plans to get a standard plate for his vehicle, now driven by his son, Roscoe.

“This brings in a lot of the themes of Nebraska and is a great way for us to brand our state,” the governor said.

Contact the writer: 402-444-1192, emily.nohr@owh.com

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