When Connie Morgan moved to Casper in 2011 with her family, she noticed several gorgeous neon signs: at Lou Taubert Ranch Outfitters, at movie theaters like the America, Iris and Fox and many other businesses. Many signs were in need of repair.
But Morgan had set aside her glass-bending and neon craft years before to raise two children. She took a part-time job at Bar-D Signs and helped crank out vehicle logos for the police department and oil company truck fleets. But Bar-D also had glass-bending equipment for neon work that was gathering dust.
Morgan had cut her teeth in the neon craft in Detroit (making AutoZone signs) and in Seattle (piles of Starbucks signs). Though it had been a long time since she’d bent glass, having access to the equipment was too tempting to resist.
Plus, she said, “I got divorced and needed a side hustle to make some more money.”
So she picked it back up. She began advertising on Facebook and clients trickled in slowly with requests for neon signs displaying family names, favorite bands and original logos for new small businesses. Her boss at Bar-D Signs wasn’t crazy about the side gig, but he appreciated the craft as well, Morgan said. Just about the time COVID struck, a prominent Casper business owner (also a neon client) convinced her to set up her own shop in one of his downtown spaces.
About the same time, downtown Casper was undergoing a resurgence in new businesses and an art-scene boom. Soon Morgan was taking on dozens of clients and even working with artists to make their creations glow.
Today, GloW Neon Lights has a long list of work orders — mostly from Wyoming clients. But orders are beginning to roll in from Colorado, too.
Casper, Morgan said, “reignited my career. It brought me back.”
GloW Neon Lights has become an integral part of Casper’s business and art scene, said Funky Junk District founder and creator Whitney Asay.
“She’s bringing this lost art back to life.”
Neon in her blood
Morgan grew up in Manhattan, Montana, and at the age of 17 noticed a newspaper ad for a neon art show at the Museum of the Rockies. She borrowed her parents’ car and drove to Bozeman to take in the exhibit.
“I was like, ‘Whoa. I want to learn how to do this,’” she said.
Unable to find a neon glass-bender willing to take her on as an apprentice, Morgan enrolled in a neon school in San Francisco, then honed her craft in Detroit. Later, in Seattle, she began working with artists commissioning her neon skills for their original designs.
“I don’t consider myself an artist,” Morgan said, adding that neon is more of a craft. Funky Junk District’s Asay disagrees.
“Connie is one of the kindest and most determined women that I have ever met, and her work speaks for itself,” Asay said.
Bending glass tubes and lighting them with neon and other gasses is a long, complicated process requiring a lot of specialized equipment. It’s also a craft that’s long been in decline with businesses preferring cheaper, mass-produced signage.
That’s one reason Morgan notices and appreciates neon wherever she goes. There are a lot of old neon gems along Colfax Avenue in Denver, she said, and Nashville, Tennessee, still has a wealth of neon. Morgan photographs most neon signs she sees on her travels — for inspiration and with a sense they might disappear.
Neon, like vinyl records, might be enjoying a bit of a renaissance, though — at least Morgan hopes that’s the case. It’s difficult to describe, she said, but neon evokes another era when distinction and flare were valued and people relied more on craft and ingenuity.
“It’s a very difficult process,” she said of the neon craft, “but it’s also very gratifying.”
Making it glow
One of her favorite, and most difficult, pieces she created was a 4-foot-tall hannya mask for a tattoo shop in Fort Collins, Colorado. Working with the tattoo artist’s design, she had to determine the lines to highlight with neon. She consulted artist friends about color balance and had to figure out how to combine different colored tubes.
“You have to assemble the light tubes just so and figure out how to connect everything,” she said. Then there was a magic moment when she lit the entire piece up for the first time. “It was the most complicated sign I’d ever done,” she said. “After that I was like, ‘OK, I know what I’m doing.'”
The client loved the piece and told her she didn’t charge enough, and they formed a friendship. “So I was really stoked.”
Her other recent works include a yak ranch logo for YouTube influencer Jeffree Star and the College Inn Bar sign in Douglas. She’s currently in discussions to refurbish a neon sign for Cassie’s Steakhouse in Cody.
“I’m adding to my commissions list,” she said. “I might work kind of slow, but I always get them done.”
Morgan sometimes hosts neon workshops, and cautions people that it’s a difficult craft to get into, she said. She’s often approached to take on apprentices, but doesn’t have the capacity right now.
For her next major project, Morgan will curate a neon art show at the Nicolaysen Art Museum in Casper. “Neon On The High Desert” will feature works from artists from all over the U.S. and Canada. The exhibition will open in September.
“We’re getting heavy-hitters who have shown at museums and galleries, as well as up-and-coming neon artists,” Morgan said. “To be able to show your work at an art museum is a really big deal for a neon artist.”
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Delightful article. Thanks.
Three decades ago, I studied the neon sign makers of Artkraft Strauss, the company that put most of the big neon signs (spectaculars) in Times Square. This was just before the invasion of programmable, digital signs. What a fascinating process, both an art and a craft, as indicated by the name. Later, I had the opportunity to visit a neon bending shop in Manila and found the same techniques and vocabulary used there, too. I’m glad to see that the neon tradition survives in Casper.
I would love to your other shops in other countries! How fascinating.
Thanks for the amazing article Dustin! I appreciate this so much.