Neon lights: once in a blue moon
It’s been called a dying trade – mostly because it’s so hard to learn – but Bruce Self of Bridge City and Jason Manasco of Orange have seen success with neon glass blowing.
Blue Moon Neon opened in 2008, and is one of the few neon glass companies between Houston and New Orleans.
There are only about 2,000 glass blowers in the U.S., Self says, who quickly notes that Blue Moon’s run of luck didn’t happen overnight.
“I’ve worked at the plants and I’ve done all kinds of things,” says Self, who owns the business next door to Blue Moon, Burger Town. “The thing I love about this is that it’s so unique.”
One tiny mistake – and one must start again.
A drop of sweat can shatter the hot glass, which sometimes gets up to 500 degrees. Manasco says he wears sweat bands at home, at work: just about anywhere.
Technically, those who work in the field are called “tube benders,” he says.
“One reason you don’t see [this art] much around is because, financially, it’s almost impossible to make it – learning to bend glass when you need the job itself,” he says. “You really need a good support system. For instance, he (Self) has another business and my wife has another job. It takes almost two years to learn this, and most people can’t make it through those two years.”
Some 80 percent of Blue Moon’s orders consist of wholesale work,
Self says. He points to a Budweiser sign on his wall. “Most people think Budweiser did that.”
Other popular orders include baby boomers tired of the bar scene who still might want to entertain at home with a few friends. Or someone might want their “name in lights.”
“Everything is hand-formed,” Self says. “There are no stencils and no machines. We start with a hand-drawn pattern.”
The artists also need electrical knowledge, since each sign uses a small, high-voltage transformer to light the neon.
Blue Moon offers three-week and six-week classes for those who want to get started.
Manasco began his training with a master glass blower, who after just two weeks had to go home to Houston for family concerns. So Manasco’s boss at the time bought him some books.
“I’ve been told I’m one of the few around who actually learned that way,” he says. “My boss at the time would let me play around in the back for an hour after work. Eventually I started being able to make the stuff.”
Self, who attended the Ed Waldrum School of Neon in Irving, says he’s always been attracted to nostalgia.
“I’m a big ‘50s nut,” he says. “And neon really hollers and shouts ‘50s.”