Western Neon Celebrates 33 Years of Lighting Up Seattle with a New Art School

Custom sign maker Western Neon shines the way to making its primary medium available to all
The Octopus Bar on N 45th Street tapped Western Neon for this distinctive custom sign

This article appears in print in the May 2018 issue. Click here to subscribe.

From the marquees of Seattle’s museums to the city’s favorite restaurants, you’ll find the trademark glow of custom sign builder Western Neon wherever you look. Cast your net wide: The company’s well-known clients include Li’l Woody’s, Filson, Rainier Beer (that famous “R”), Cupcake Royale, Caffe Vita, Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream and Easy Street Records (not to mention instantly recognizable brands such as Seattle City Light and Elephant Car Wash). From Ballard to Beacon Hill, there’s no denying the 33-year-old company’s influence among the signs dotting Seattle streets.

LIGHT CRAFT: A Student of the new Western Neon School of Art practices the bending technique. Photo by WNSA

Western Neon’s creative director, visual artist Dylan Neuwirth, has been working with the medium for decades in a merging of the applied and fine arts (he’s the creator of one of Seattle’s most popular selfie backdrops, the 2014 Occidental Park light installation “Just Be Your Selfie”). Late last year, with company president André Lucero and neon artist Kelsey Fernkopf, Neuwirth launched the Western Neon School of Art, a nonprofit trade and art school that will focus, he says, “on a new wave of neon artists exploring light, space and interactive technologies.” Students learn how to work with noble gases, electrify components, and bend and fuse glass tubing. Held at the Western Neon studio in Sodo, winter quarter classes filled up within 48 hours; the forthcoming spring session already has a waiting list.

Why neon, why now? Perhaps it’s the medium’s nostalgic flair and nod to enduring brands, a natural partner for our Instagram-obsessed culture (just step into the company’s lobby, a veritable church of neon, and try not post your pics). Neuwirth, who has exhibited his creations around the world and is on a first-name basis with Dale Chihuly, his former employer, takes a more mystical view. “What is light? How do you work with it? And what can you do with it?” If his students are successful, the rest of us might just see.

WEB EXTRA: See more photos from around the city here:

Related Content

Seattle's Book-It-Rep Theatre's American Junkie play

Set in grunge-era Seattle, its grim portrait of addiction remains relevant today

Seattle Art Museum's 'Like a Hammer' exhibit, artist Jeffrey Gibson

Pull out your calendar; it’s time to pencil in the season’s top performances, shows and concerts you won’t want to miss

Seattle's Office of Arts and Culture's headquarters in Pioneer Square's King Street Station

Spring is the season of new beginnings, a budding promise that rings especially true this arts season with a handful of highly anticipated venue openings and reopenings, each rolling out dynamic programming, performances and refreshed purpose