AUGUSTA — State officials unveiled a commemorative license plate for sale Monday that celebrates Maine’s 200 years of statehood.

The anniversary of that event is two years away, but backers of the plate say proceeds from the sale of the plates will be designated for the Maine State Cultural Affairs Council and its bicentennial initiative.

“We see the bicentennial as an opportunity for us to work at the local level with libraries, historical groups, arts groups and others to help everyone understand and appreciate our heritage,” Peter Merrill, council chairman, said. “This is not just about who we were and how we got here, it’s about who we are today and who we will be tomorrow. We very much look forward to doing this, and the license plate makes it possible.”

Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, who bought a plate Monday morning at the unveiling, said that over the next year and a half, the members of the commission, made up of cultural agencies both inside and outside of state government, will be working to highlight the state and its history to the public.

The plate shows the radiant five-pointed star and Dirigo banner from the state’s seal set on a dark blue background, which matches the field of the state flag. The years 1820 and 2020 flank the star, noting the year Maine was established and its bicentennial year.

The commemorative plates, which are decorative plates intended for display on the front bumper, are now for sale for $25 at any Bureau of Motor Vehicles office in Maine or online through the Secretary of State’s website, www.maine.gov/sos/bmv/registration/bicen.html starting on Dec. 15. A $2 fee will be charged to use the online service.

Howard Lowell left the event Monday with two commemorative plates under his arm. One is likely to go in his wife’s Christmas stocking, he said.

Lowell, of South Thomaston, was at the Cultural Building in Augusta on Monday because he had been invited to the event, and he opted to do some research on a legal issue at the same time.

“It’s an opportunity to look back, and it’s also an opportunity to look forward on what we want the state to be when we celebrate the 300th anniversary,” he said.

Lowell retired from the National Archives after stints in the state archives of Oklahoma and Delaware, before returning to his native Maine.

He acknowledged that the coming event may not be a celebration for all the state’s residents.

“There were a lot of people here before 200 years ago,” he said, referring to Native American populations. “That’s part I think of the conversation. It’s a conversation we’re trying to have nationally with some difficulties at the moment, but it’s a conversation I think we can still have in Maine.”

From colonial times, Maine was annexed to Massachusetts, and it remained so for more than three decades after the United States won its independence from Great Britain in the Revolutionary War. The War of 1812 brought about Maine’s independence from Massachusetts. The 1814 invasion and occupation of towns by British troops, including looting in Hampden and Bangor, coupled with a weak defense of the territory by Massachusetts, gave calls for Maine’s independence louder voices. Following a referendum, Maine became a state in its own right on March 15, 1820.

The plates can be displayed on motor vehicles in place of the front numbered plate from Jan. 1, 2018 through Dec. 31, 2020. It replaces the front numbered plate, which are still required and cost $35, under a special exception authorized by the Maine State Legislature.

According to the Secretary of State’s Office, the front numbered plate may be either covered or removed. In the event that it’s covered, the validation sticker should be attached to vehicle registration until the plate is displayed again. If it’s removed, the sticker should go on the plate and the plate should be securely stored until the term of the commemorative plate has ended.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ