Every car has a license plate–but every home certainly does not have a unique piece of license plate art. However, Design Turnpike is looking to change that.
Dearborn resident David Bowman started the business out of a hobby: collecting vintage license plates. Soon, collecting turned into creating.
“I started making stuff out of license plates about four years ago,” Bowman said. “I’ve always loved geography and travel and Americana.”
Armed with an art degree and a lot of creativity, Bowman created his first piece for his own home–a map of the U.S. constructed out of those license plates. It was definitely a conversation starter.
“A lot of friends and family would stop by and talk about (the piece) and said I should sell them,” he recalled. He took their advice.
Now, Bowman has pieces for sale at the MDen in Ann Arbor, as well as in in Dearborn and The Green Store in Plymouth.
But most of his projects are commissioned through his website, and have been shipped all over the country to individuals and businesses. They range from full maps of America to smaller, unique pieces focusing on individual states, or even custom works designed by customers.
Additionally, Bowman said he receives a lot of requests from Dearborn schools and nonprofits for pieces to sell in auctions.
“I do a lot of donations of framed prints for tin can raffles for elementary schools, and the Dearborn Arc,” he said. “I think that might be where some of the Dearborn fans have built up.”
The projects mean that his house is full of hundreds of vintage license plates picked up at garage sales and auctions, plus thousands of scraps leftover from finished projects.
But all plates share the commonality that they are older; many are from the 1960s and ‘70s. The reasoning is simple: “Besides having character, they tend to be more colorful. They hearken you back to a certain time period,” Bowman explained. “I like to use plates that were actually on automobiles … they tend to create more interesting pieces.”
Despite his success, Bowman still holds a daytime job as a graphic designer. But that may soon change.
“Design Turnpike is slowly growing and I had a lot of big orders over the holidays,” he said. “It’s at this point where I need to decide what I want to do with it.”
If his fans have any say, Bowman may be making his hobby a full-time job.
Design Turnpike is one of three Dearborn businesses nominated for the Dearborn Chamber of Commerce's Innovative Business Award. The winner will be announced at the on April 26 at . Learn more at www.dearbornchamber.org.