From countless flickering city-scapes to memorable movie scenes, the iconic glow of neon signs generates more intriguing lighting and mood. The incandescence is so recognizable; many songwriters even include neon in their lyrics. Yet, the craft of neon continues to decline due to the introduction of light-emitting diodes or LED’s.
Local artist Chuck Bosone is keeping the lost art of neon alive. He has been blowing and bending glass tubes for neon signs and designs for over two decades. His career in neon began at a small shop in Houston. When it closed, Bosone set up his own shop named 81 Neon in Seabrook in 1988. Bosone’s neon works glow all around the Bay Area from store fronts to private palapas. “My neon’s everywhere,” he said.
Bosone explained the process of creating neon. He told he starts with a drawing of the sign lettering or design and pulls the necessary materials. Bosone then places the pattern on a screen. Next, he informed the glass is hand-fired until malleable and bent by hand to follow the pattern. Bosone added, “It’s a true art form.” He said once the tube bending is complete, it’s heated again with 20,000 volts of electricity to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. The finished tube is finally sent through a vacuum system to ensure proper function. When the tube reaches a certain temperature it is filled with the gas. Bosone shared there are actually only two colors available. He informed, “Neon is red and argon is blue. The other colors of neon are made of different fluorescents added to a tube before bending.”
Because it’s fabricated without filaments or elements, Bosone revealed neon can last 30 to 50 years making it highly economical. Of course, he means with proper care. He advised, “It’s glass with gas. You break the tube and it won’t work.” To affirm the long life of neon, Bosone proclaimed inside his shops hang signs they made their first week in business that still operate.
“Everyone loves the final products,” said Bosone. He acknowledged, “It’s a big deal to make something look just as someone imaged it. Whatever you can dream up, you draw it, and we can make it.”
- Kelley Dawson