In a dark and forgotten storage room of Clifton’s cafeteria in downtown Los Angeles, a neon sign was secretly glowing and flickering since the Great Depression, until it was discovered after 62 years, having accumulated over $17,000 in electricity bills for the unwitting owners. The sign was purchased in 1935 but later stored out of sight after renovation works on the premises. Someone forgot to disconnect the plug¹.
The neon sign has not always had the best reputation. Often an indication of a seedy motel or cocktail bar, neon signs were actually outlawed in some American towns during the 1950s and 60s. The first neon sign dates as far back as 1902, and more than a 100 years later, Todd Sanders of Roadhouse Relics has turned this true American icon into a stunning artform. Hand-made from start to finish, the self-taught pop artist uses durable modern materials & specialized weathering techniques, to create and sell his unique vintage-inspired neon designs. That’s right, the old sign for a swimming pool you see up there, it’s actually one of Todd’s brand new neon signs that would look pretty awesome lit up in your living room, office or boutique!
Let’s browse (drool) through some more of his pieces photographed at his gallery in Austin Texas…
When the odorless and colorless inert gas known as neon is placed in a vacuum tube along with electrodes, once some voltage is discharged through the glass, you get that iconic glow from kinetic energy moving up and down the tube. “All you need is that plug”, says Todd, who has been bending neon by hand and designing building and painting his metal signs by hand for 20 years.
Earlier on in his career when vintage neon signs were less of a revival trend and more of a symbol of urban decay, Todd used his skills for restaurant décor and movie props (you can see his work in films such as Miss Congeniality, The Rookie and Tree of Life), which is still a core part of his business. Today he is the go-to guy for major art collectors and his award-winning pieces have appeared in The Museum of Neon Art. You can pick up one of Todd’s pieces from around $2,500.
(Or for $18, you can buy his prints on Society6!)
See the man in action in this short video courtesy by HoldFast:
The RoadHouse Relics gallery is definitely on my bucket list, a wonderland of vintage treasures, a retro feast for the eyes! You can find a stunning photo gallery of this unique artist’s studio here on Camille Styles.
PS. If you’re as infatuated by neon art as I am and you ever find yourself in Las Vegas, might I recommend the Neon Boneyard.
A park approximately two acres in size, the non-profit museum boasts a collection of over 150 signs from motels, local businesses and celebrated casino resorts of the 1920s right up to the present day– all rescued or donated from the Las Vegas Valley. The photogenic collection offers a glimpse into the colorful past of Las Vegas and its most recognizable art form.