It’s near the end of June and we’ve nearly missed our chance to share that we’re in the June issue of City Arts Magazine, so be sure to pick up a copy. That’s twice in a row! In May we won the City Arts Artwalk Awards for our piece called, This is About the Stories.
Here’s a link to the feature this month, pasted below.
by Gemma Wilson
It’s hot inside this Rainier Ave. studio, but Cedar Mannan doesn’t break a sweat as he ignites two small open flames. They flare brightly before settling into a pale blue blaze.
Mannan, who runs the boutique studio Noble Neon with his wife Lia Hall, quickly rotates a section of glass tubing in one of the flames until it’s the consistency of honey. Then, with sure, efficient motions he bends the tube into a right angle. And repeat. In minutes, the glass turns from a rigid tube into a looping letter, on its way to becoming a piece of neon art.
Mannan and Hall are both native Northwesterners—she’s from Seattle, he grew up without electricity in rural Washington near Menlo. Mannan studied neon art at Evergreen State College; after graduation he repaired and installed neon for Western Neon, a local industry giant, and interned with “an old Hungarian dude in Shoreline who bends glass out of his garage.” In 2004 Mannan moved to New York and worked at Lite Brite Neon Studio in Brooklyn, which is where he and Hall met on the night she graduated from the New School with an MFA in poetry.
Returning to Seattle in 2012 with an inheritance from Mannan’s grandmother as their seed money, Noble Neon first opened in a live/work space in the old Rainier Brewery. (They’re now near Jackson and Rainier.) The shop started with a lot of subcontracting work—for a Marc Jacobs store in New York, at Sundance installing something for James Franco (“He does neon, too,” cracks Mannan). They still do installations and repairs—Mannan was recently in Venice helping on an install at the Biennale—but now they focus more on custom designs and art pieces.
“[The neon field] is like a bug zapper,” Mannan says, laughing. “Weird people are attracted to it.”
Recent projects include a dripping knot-like fixture in a suite at the Sorrento Hotel (designed by Brian Paquette Interiors) and a series of geometric pendants for a pop-up shop. They’ve also done signs for LoveCityLove, the Spectacle exhibit at EMP and Pilchuck Glass School’s offices, among many others. Their art piece “This Is About the Stories” took first place at City Arts’ 2015 Spring Art Walk Awards.
Working in neon is a complex amalgam of sculpture and science. “It’s like a geometry problem, because you have to plan your moves many steps ahead,” says Hall, who designs the templates on which the glass is sculpted. Every bend has to be precisely plotted so that heat never touches a section of glass that’s already been worked. After the glass is bent into its shape the whole thing is capped with electrodes, evacuated of air and filled with an inert noble gas—sometimes mixed with phosphor or mercury for color—and electrified. Sometimes the glass itself is colored or coated with phosphor to give it a different hue.
“You can really geek out on the science of it,” Hall says. “Not just the physics but the chemistry. What’s happening in the tube is a microcosm of what’s happening in a nebula where stars are being born.”
Once up and running, neon lights can last for decades. They put off little heat, draw less electricity than a standard incandescent bulb and, because they contain the full spectrum of light, ward off seasonal affective disorder.
If you’re in the market for signage, LED or rope lighting is cheap and bright. But neon offers something more. Says Hall, “We want people to see it as lighting and also appreciate it as art.”