Neon wasn’t invented specifically for Las Vegas, but we might be forgiven for assuming it was. No city on any continent has ever flourished as brightly in the glow (or, in Vegas’ case, glare) of neon signage as has America’s gambling capitol. And now, thanks to the recently-opened Neon Museum, we have a chance to witness for ourselves the larger-than-life story of a disappearing craft that single-handedly gave Las Vegas its visual identity.
The museum, which opened last fall, is the product of a valiant 15-year excavation/preservation effort to keep the city’s once-beckoning, massive steel and fiberglass neon signs from being relegated to landfills, along with Vegas’ history itself. And in some ways, the open-air “boneyard” of discarded signs is a mournful elegy to a time and place long gone: the signs are from establishments either demolished or reincarnated as something else altogether.
But it’s not just nostalgists flocking for a look at Vegas’ past. Graphic designers and typographers will note letterforms and entire fonts that were designed locally, specifically for the bent glass tubes of neon. “All this,” says Danielle Kelly, the museum’s executive director, “was developed in a so-called cultural wasteland.”
Photo credits: Eight Hour Day