Making a Statement - Artist gives new life to old plates

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Daryl Bruxvoort, Elkader, is turning old vehicle license plates into unique works of art.

By Kim Hurley

Register Freelance Writer

 

A license to sell.

Many people need licenses to sell particular goods and services. However, there’s a fellow in Elkader who sells actual licenses—Creative Licenses. More specifically, he creates and sells artwork made out of vehicle license plates—and he sure does make huge statement doing so!

Who is this fellow, what road has he traveled, and how has he arrived at this sideline? He is none other than Daryl Bruxvoort, originally from Oskaloosa, Iowa. As an information technologist, he has worked for Pella Windows and Amana Refrigeration, and currently works from home for Pearson, which is a British-based company.  

About 10 years ago when his son-in-law had a summer internship at Osborne, Daryl became acquainted with Clayton County and Northeast Iowa. Eventually, he bought a home in Elkader while still living in Iowa City and came up almost every weekend for a number of years. However, he loved Northeast Iowa so much that he moved here permanently about three years ago. 

Also about 10 years ago, Daryl saw a USA license plate map in a closed New Orleans gallery at night from the sidewalk and was fascinated by it. Unfortunately, he was leaving town the next morning and couldn’t make it back to see it. “I always remembered it, knew I probably couldn’t afford to buy one, and decided the shortest route might be to make my own,” he recalled.

 

It was then that Creative License came into fruition as a sideline. The first piece of license plate artwork he created was a small USA license plate. “I found it more difficult than I had thought,” Daryl said. “I learned that bigger was actually easier, so I now make them approximately three feet by five feet.’’ He explains at that size, the only two states that need more than one plate are California and Texas, with Montana being almost exactly the size of a single 6x12-inch plate. Alaska is then scaled down and Hawaii is scaled up just as it is on most USA maps. 

Daryl does original works by commission, with 10 USA maps, five Iowa maps, and five guitars on his resume so far.  He uses these originals for aluminum prints that are available in several sizes.  

So, how does he create these works of art? Daryl admits that it took him a long time to find something that was tough enough to cut the license plates, but also allow for the shapes of various states. He eventually found a pair of lightweight shears from Germany that allow for both. “I use very small brads to attach the plates to the plywood base,” he said, further explaining the process of creating his artwork, “I then wrap the edges of the plywood with plates which gives it a more finished look.”

One of Daryl’s earliest challenges was getting the states to fit after they had been cut. “I would start with the western states, which were easy, but by the time I was east of the Mississippi nothing fit,” he recalled, shaking his head. 

Another challenge is that the price of the more desirable license plates seems to be going up. This makes it increasingly difficult to keep his artwork affordable. There’s a very active collector community for license plates, which are often used to decorate restaurants, garages, and basements. “Some of the rarer plates with really good graphics can cost $50 or more,” according to Daryl, “and you really don’t want to cut into one of those, especially if it’s a small state.” Also, some states like Montana have a history of great plates, but a few like Arkansas and Virginia are somewhat bland.   

Daryl admits selling his originals is difficult not only because he becomes attached to them, but also because they aren’t inexpensive due to all the time and materials invested in each piece. However, it is always a pleasure for him to sell one to somebody who likes them as much as he does. “Customers send me pictures of their purchase hanging on their wall,” he shares, “So I know they are proud of them.”

Daryl sells his creative licenses directly to friends and acquaintances. He also has Di-bond aluminum prints suitable for outdoor use at Signs-N-Frames in Elkader and metal prints available at Fennelly’s, also in Elkader. 

 
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