Origin Stories: M-26 November 25 2013

We just recently released our M-26 print, the first Michigan-specific print in our collection, and it's one of my favorite prints that we've done for a few reasons, chief among them that we actually put real Michigan asphalt in the ink. More on that later. But how did the M-26 print come to be? 

I grew up in Indiana and our state highway signs were pretty blah. White rectangle, Indiana in a pretty basic font up top, large route number below. I assumed state highway signs were pretty standard across the board, like interstate and US highway signs. But then I started dating my future wife, who lived across the state line in Michigan and discovered there was a whole world beyond the plain white rectangles I was used to. 

These signs were different, black squares with rounded corners, a white diamond in the middle. No need to write out Michigan, just a handsome block M at the top. And they didn't call these roads State Road like we did south of the border. No, it was M-40 and M-51 and M-60. Nice, succinct, and memorable.

So when I wanted to create a Michigan-specific print, the state highway sign seemed like the perfect place to start. I mean, what's on the complete opposite end of the spectrum from flying over? You won't see state highway signs from an airplane. But what number should grace the sign?

M-22 was a worthy competitor, practically a symbol of the entire region around Traverse City. The views as it winds through Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore are sights to behold. M-185, the eight mile road around Mackinac Island accessible to only bicycles and horses, came to mind as well. So did M-1, "Detroit's Main Street". But in the end I wanted something that represented the state as a whole.

Sure, M-26 is a real road running from Houghton to Copper Harbor in the UP. But that's not why I chose it. Rather, the 26 represents Michigan's admission to the Union as the 26th state. By happy accident, it's also the reverse of the highway only a mile from our headquarters.

Now back to that whole asphalt in the ink thing. I wanted to include a little bit of Michigan in the print so a piece of home was always nearby, no matter how far away from the Great Lakes State the print got. I talked to our printer and told him my crazy idea. He thought about it for a minute and then replied that if I could get the asphalt ground up to a sandlike consistency it might just work. 

I went for a run and spotted a small piece of asphalt that had chipped off the road just down the street from headquarters. I picked it up and brought it home with me, then set about grinding it with an improvised pestle. I sent it off to Connecticut, the printer approved the consistency and gave it a trial run. Things went smoothly and the rest is history.

So that's the story of the M-26 print. Available in traditional black as well as Spartan Green and Wolverine Blue, it's an iconic piece of Michigan that I'm looking forward to sending all across the state and country.

- Nick