Artistic Illumination: SF Man Keeps Neon Alive
by Phil McIlrath, KDLT News
June 07, 2012 8:41 AM
If you travel to Las Vegas or Hong Kong, the glow of neon can be seen for miles, but almost everywhere else this beautiful form of illumination has began to fade out almost entirely.
One Sioux Empire man has dedicated his professional life to keeping the artistic trade of Neon Glass Blowing alive, and it's his interesting career and love for the craft the makes Scotty Johnson, Someone You Should Know.
"It's defiantly more than retro look; with everything trying to be faster, cheaper, neon kind of got put by the wayside,"said neon glass blower, Scotty Johnson.
...An unfortunate side effect with today's advancements and technology, but Like a moth to a flame, Scotty Johnson has been drawn in by neon's warm glow for the past 28 years.
"I've always been interested in neon and the lights from around the city, Vegas, Hong Kong, are two of the biggest hot spots for neon...I've always been attracted to that glow of the neon lights,"said Johnson.
However, Scotty says it's his unique trade and skills that keep him burning with desire. Each day he transforms thin tubes of leaded glass into electronic works of art. It's a job that relies more on feel and skill than anything.
"We blow in it just the same way an ornamental glass maker would do it, instead of distorting the glass we're keeping it uniform thickness. You learn how to feel the glass and the fire how it starts to flow and such and how to control it...after 28 years I think I've got it figured out,"said Johnson.
From there, Scotty beams it over to his workbench where he constantly checks his bends with the pattern. After everything checks out, he welds electrodes onto the ends that will energize the gas within to give that distinctive neon look. But, before he gets to that he has to remove the air in the tube, pump in the neon gas and give it a good zap of 9,000 volts of electricity to bring the bulb to life.
However, sadly for Scotty, his unique trade is being replaced by LED lights. They're cheaper, easier to replace, and run on much low voltage.
"At first I was pretty resistant to it, but I've found that if you don't change with the times, you're destined to be left behind,"said Johnson.
Even though work around the shop has gotten a little dim, Scotty says he doesn't expect his trade to burn out anytime soon.
"I'm not concerned with it dying out entirely,"said Johnson. "I'm confident it's going to be around for while yet...I've got to make this gig last for a while yet myself."
Breathing a little life back into a colorful trade that has a unique look and ambiance all of it's own.