SEATTLE — Western Neon lights up and maintains some classic Seattle signs. The Quick Pick sign, The Pink Elephant Car Wash sign, and a very famous R.
"One of the most iconic projects that we've worked on is the Rainier R,” explained Dylan Neuwirth, Western Neon’s Creative Director, who doesn’t just do signs – he helps Chihuly build and install art.
Evening followed along in 2012 when they restored the Rainier R. Fortunately for us, Western Neon also made our Evening neon sign. Which we recently broke.
“The Evening Magazine sign is a classic because Evening Magazine itself is a classic,” said Neuwirth. Lead glass bender Will Kirtley got to work on repairing the sign.
"This is a really beautiful example of what neon can do, script, it's a really nice form, the word ‘Evening’," Kirtley said as he used hot flame to melt and bend a new lowercase cursive ‘g’ for the sign. The whole time he works, he's attached to the hot glass by a tube he holds in his mouth.
"I’ll make my bend, and then blow. And that keeps the diameter consistent throughout the tube. Because it collapses slightly as you bend it,” he said as he worked quickly, bending the letter then checking it against a pattern, then heating the glass again and bending another curve.
“It’s a feel, yeah. I can when it's getting wiggly, and the truth is every glass behaves a little different.”
Once the new 'g' is shaped, comes the hardest part, welding the pieces back together.
"It's kind of the moment of truth, if it cracks on you right now you have two broken halves. So a lot can go wrong at this moment."
But this time, nothing goes wrong.
"And there we are, back to the word ‘Evening’” said Kirtley, holding up his handiwork.
Then, the sign moves on to technician Dani Kaes to get its glow.
"I'm gonna sterilize the inside of this tube using high voltage electricity."
She does this by slipping sheets of mica, a non-conductive type of soft stone, between the tight curves of the sign so they don’t arc and melt together, and then superheating the tubes with high voltage electricity to create a vacuum. Finally, she fills the tubes with neon, then seals it. Fun fact – neon is the only noble gas that glows red. Most so-called neon signs are filled with other gasses.
"Now we're going to light it up,” said Kaes. "Nice and red. That's a good color. That's the color we're looking for."
That’s the color we’re looking for too. One more example of the art, and science, that gives Seattle its glow.