Red (and blue and green and yellow and pink…) Light District

Let There Be Neon is a unique gallery of neon based works and active workshop supplying some of the city’s most iconic signage. I was granted a behind-the-scenes tour of this positively glowing piece of New York history.

One of the first things to greet visitors to Let There Be Neon is this display behind the front desk. Each tube of neon or argon represents a color that can be readily incorporated into a sign. At left are unusual tubes, including striped ones and “cracklers” that are no longer produced and available only in limited quantities. At right are two art pieces by Rudi Stern, the gallery’s founder.
Let There Be Neon was originally founded as a combination gallery space and studio in 1972. It moved to its current location at 38 White Street in 1984 but continues to have a unique vibe. Visitors are welcome to take in the collection of vintage and contemporary signs in the collection, but must be aware that it is very much an active work space. Orders packed for international shipping wait by the door, steps from the desks where sales are made and signs are designed.
Ed Skrypa is one of the skilled glassbenders who works at Let There Be Neon. Here he is installing the electrodes in either end of this rod that will carry a current through the gas.
Skrypa works with pre-cut lengths of glass. By applying extreme heat to small portions at a time, he can make the glass malleable once more.
An important aspect of glassbending is blowing through a tube inserted into the opposite end of the tube. Skrypa must blow hard enough that the tube doesn’t collapse in on itself while being heated, but not so hard that he causes it to expand.
Different bends require specialized heaters.
Before taking a course on glassbending, Skrypa worked in a tool and die shop. He also used to listen to music while on working, but has switched to talk radio lately. “I need to make sure I’m still going to get social security when I retire,” he explained.
The tubes are measured against an outline after each bend, until they are a perfect fit.
After the glass is entirely bent, it is taken to a pumping station. If the tube is to have a red light, it will be filled with neon. Blue lights are typically achieved with argon. Most other colors are achieved by using those gasses in combination with different coatings and glass tints. The completed tubes are sealed after filling, wired to electronic components, and sent to the clients.
In addition to custom signs, Let There Be Neon carries many pre-made standards, and will also rent them out to film production companies. Many well known television shows shot in New York City have used signs kept in this storage area.
The current owner of Let There Be Neon has stored a huge collection of vintage neon clocks on the walls of the shop. This example from the Correct Time clock shop dates to 1912, and likely would have been the first piece of neon signage many people saw since the technology, since the first public display was in 1910.
Visitors are welcome at Let There Be Neon from 9-5, and a variety of art books and merchandise are for sale. However, the storefront is best viewed after dark.
A special thanks to Studio Manager Molly Rae, for providing the tour.

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