Oct 31, 2022
Artist Danielle James (DJ for short), is conjuring up neon lights in her Durham, NC shop. Under the name Hex Neon, she creates custom work, restorations, and teaches classes. Her shop name and logo were inspired by the hex signs on Pennsylvania Dutch barns in Lancaster, PA.
DJ studied metalsmithing and jewelry making in art school. As a student, she got the desire to make small wearable neon pieces. This desire took her to a neon company in Atlanta, where she discovered neon is a VIP pass to really cool historic places. She also loves that she can make a big impact in the neon industry since it is so small and it needs more skilled artists. Besides the lack of skilled artists, another contemporary challenge is clients not understanding the difference between LED and neon signs. DJ gives us a good primer so you’ll know the difference.
Neon workers are called benders, because they bend premade glass tubes. DJ likens it to manipulating spaghetti. Benders skillfully curve the glass, avoiding shrinking the diameter of the tube. Sign colors come from the combination of the gasses pumped inside and glass tinting.
Neon work is exciting and dangerous. DJ uses two different types of torches: a crossfire and a ribbon burner. While neon and argon aren’t poisonous, some signs do contain the poison mercury. Benders must be knowledgeable of safely protocols for working with electricity to avoid serious injury and death.
She gave an overview on the glowing history of neon, from the pioneering French inventor, Georges Claude, to the golden age in the 1950s, to its downfall in the 1980s and 1990s, and the niche renaissance of today. Historically neon has been a secretive art, since some benders only trained family so they weren’t risking training future competitors.
DJ lives a Halloween lifestyle. She makes at least one Halloween piece of work a year. She worked for many years at a haunted attraction doing set design, make-up, and acting. Her favorite haunt job was being a crowd walker, entertaining patrons as a creepy clown. She collects retro horror posters and loves watching horror movies.
DJ closed out the interview by sharing a touching sign restoration she worked on for The Echo Project. This non-profit is transforming a building with a deeply racist past into a civil rights museum.
To learn more about Danielle and her work, visit: https://www.hexneon.com