Image © 2017 Bruce Clayton Tom for  City Arts.

Image © 2017 Bruce Clayton Tom for City Arts.

Western Neon School of Art is pleased to open their doors on January 23, 2018, with our first class: Introduction to Light-Based Media. Founded by the President of Western Neon, André Lucero, master-level technician Kelsey Fernkopf, and contemporary artist Dylan Neuwirth — Western Neon School of Art is a non-profit institution based in Seattle that supports the exploration of light, space, and interactive technologies.

There’s no question that less and less people are learning how to work in this field,” Fernkopf says. “I hope we can provide access and opportunity to the next generation. Neon inspires a sense of wonder in so many people, and I’d like to see where they can go with that.
— Kelsey Fernkopf

Since the late 1950’s, neon art pioneer Dean Blazek and Wisconsin have been at the epicenter of the neon industry in the United States. While attending art school in Milwaukee, Dean began his training at Everbrite Signs, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of neon. He went on to establish the Northern Wisconsin Neon Workshop in Antigo in 1979. Attracting visitors from across the globe, he educated hundreds of students in the secrets of working with neon, glass bending, and the applied arts. In the mid-1980’s, Dean extended his long-time passion for sharing information by writing the column “Neon Techniques” for industry mainstay Signs of the Times and went on to publish what has become a touchstone text: “Neon ABC’s.”

Influenced by his drive, Dean’s sons Michael and Jay both trained under their father. Michael, who did apprenticeships in Australia and New Zealand, opened Western Neon in 1985 as an art gallery devoted to the illuminated arts. Jay came on board in the mid-1980’s and alongside Michael, transformed Western Neon into one of the United States’ premier sign manufacturers by imbuing each project with inspiration and quality. As Jay took ownership of the business, Michael relocated to Brisbane, Australia in 1989 to open his shop, Neon Specialists. They closed the circle on their father’s work in 1993 by releasing “Neon: The Next Generation” – transforming their collective contributions to the medium into a family effort.

Neon is a form of glass art, and we have hopes that Seattle can rise to be a major player in that world too.
— André Lucero

Western Neon has been a studio, gallery, custom sign business, and Seattle mainstay powered by creativity since its inception. Upon joining Western Neon in 2004, now President and owner André Lucero dreamed about establishing a school for teaching classes centered around illuminated media with a focus on the history and skills needed to work in this unique practice. He teamed with Kelsey Fernkopf, a master-level technician with over 30 years of experience, and prolific contemporary artist Dylan Neuwirth to launch a non-profit institution focused on a new wave of neon artists exploring light, space, and interactive technologies. Together, they founded the Western Neon School of Art in summer of 2017. 

Neon has always been a medium that encapsulates visceral emotion,” Neuwirth says. “If our classes enable at least one person to discover that sense of mystery and absorb the skills to wield it in full, then that one person could potentially do anything with it.
— Dylan Neuwirth

Future plans include intermediate classes, solo instruction with a dedicated technician, open studio time, and exploratory sessions working in virtual reality. Our programs will teach the necessary skills of pattern design, glass bending, cutting, and welding while working with essential tools such as the crossfire, ribbon burner, and hand torches. We will also offer local, national, and international artists residencies to create new work, instruct, and exhibit. With an equal emphasis on skills and aesthetics, the Visiting Artist Program will simultaneously engage with the creative community to incubate unforeseen ideas and foster new directions within the medium.

Western Neon School of Art opens on January 23, 2018 and will be accepting facility and programming tours beginning on January 15, 2018 — please contact Creative Director Dylan Neuwirth at least 3 days in advance to make an appointment. The full article on the school, "The Future's So Bright" written by Rachel Gallaher for City Arts, can be found here.

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