NEON IS BACK! And That's a Good Sign by Joan Bramsch (c) copyright: 1996
Everywhere you look these days, there's Neon. Seems like everyone is finally "seeing light" of razzle-dazzle Neon in all its raucous, sinuous beauty. Television programs reflect public's renewed interest in bright illumination. On a recent NBC Homicide program entitled "Murder In Neon,"the opening scene featured The New Moon Motel sign in electric blue neon. It set mood for story -- exciting and mysterious.
Alex's Show and Sisters television series both open with neon signs. But my favorite is John Larroquette Show opening, when he strolls alongside big red and green neon sign and gives it a thump to stop blinking message. Great stuff! Whimsy and fun, along with bright colors bordering on gaudy are important elements in fulfilling Neon's main job as a powerful visual medium. To understand how color gets inside glass tubes however, calls for some background information. Jacob Fishman, one of America's great neon artists, created an excellent video production - "Introduction To Neon" - that tells about neon's roots, as well as, provides a real-time demonstration of how neon is made. (For information call 1-800-747-9115, or visit his web site for neon supplies at http://www.lightwriters.com/nw)
The History of Neon The word Neon comes from Greek "neos," meaning "The New Gas." Old Neon signs are most often neon or argon gas in a vacuum tube; smaller diameter of tube, more intense light produced and higher voltage required to illuminate it. A word of caution here: Old neon sign transformers can be very dangerous. DO NOT plug in an old neon sign if you are unsure of its operating condition. Better safe, than sorry! The neon sign is attributed to Georges Claude who popularized it in Paris in 19l0. The Lights Fantastic was brought to America in 1923. Earle C. Anthony purchased two signs for $24,000, money enough to purchase a small bungalow or two automobiles, and installed them in his Los Angeles Packard dealership. It is said, one sign still glows in night!
Although there are now more than 150 neon colors possible by combining different gases like Krypton, xenon and helium, two favorites remain -- a fiery orange-red neon gas called Ruby Red and a soft lavender argon gas that turns a brilliant blue when enhanced with a drop or two of mercury. Another blue - Bromo Blue - named from popular deep blue Bromo-Seltzer bottle, is a glass color made from Cobalt.
In early years neon signs stopped traffic as people stared in fascination. The so-called "Liquid Fire" captivated public and it wasn't long before neon was everywhere. Theater marquee, night club and restaurant signs became an integral part of streamlined American landscape.
Neon became light of American Dream. Technology created even more colors and by 50's pink and turquoise started to cover new drive-ins and diners, matching girl's felt poodle skirts and boy's ruffled tuxedo shirts for Prom night.
By 60's bright plastic signs began to appear and neon's blazing lights, suddenly considered tacky, faded across nation. During next ten years neon sign making almost became a lost art, but in early 70's a new breed of neon craftspeople emerged; these artisans expanded realm of neon from advertising signs into world of art. Artists like Fishman learned to use neon tubing to express his visions. The results are nothing less than breath-taking!
The Art of Neon American-made hollow glass rods used to make neon art come in 4-ft lengths. To shape rods, glass is held in a cross-fire, two small groups of pipes arranged in a fan shape, each facing other, and from which gas and forced air flow. The temperature of that blended flame measures approximately 800 degrees F. Without forced air flame would never get hot enough to melt glass rods. The rod is scored at needed length with a sharpened file and pulled apart inside flame. Then artisan creates right-angles, double-backs and combination bends upon a reversed-pattern paper to form her/his design. All work on a neon lamp/sign must be in reverse because all plugs and electrical connections are in back. When design is completed, gas is pumped into tubing, then electrified and viola! an illuminated work of art.