Seattle neon firm lights up show

SIOBHAN DOWNES
Last updated 12:58 03/07/2014
 Neville and Sally Bennett
MARION VAN DIJK/FAIRFAX NZ

IN LIGHTS: Halfdan Hansen, left and Jay Blazek with one of the 11 limited-edition Nelson neon signs made in Seattleā€™s Western Neon.

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He's a long way from the big city lights of Seattle, but Jay Blazek is putting the neon into Nelson.

Blazek is the owner of Western Neon, a Seattle-based company that produces neon signs and lighting.

His work was featured at the Light Nelson Trust's inaugural Neon Nelson exhibition at Red Gallery this week.

A limited-edition set of Nelson signs was created especially for the event, shipped in from Seattle and put up for sale. Blazek manages the company from offshore, after moving to Nelson with his wife and two teenage sons four years ago.

"We'd been in Seattle long enough that we were looking for a place that had some sunshine," he said.

"We also heard Nelson was a great community and supportive of the arts."

He has been in the neon business most of his life.

Both he and his brother learned the skill from their father, who has owned a sign company since 1956 and operated a neon school.

It was here Blazek discovered the possibilities of neon.

"People were coming from all over the country, some from outside the US, just to do it as an art form," he said.

"That completely blew my mind as a kid, thinking, ‘Oh, you don't just have to make pizza and espresso signs'. That got me more interested."

Most people assume neon is machine-made, but it's actually handcrafted from glass, Blazek said.

"Neon is made almost identically to how it was 100 years ago - there's very little mechanisation at all."

He had already sold at least four of his 11 Nelson signs - including one to Halfdan Hansen, of Jens Hansen jewellers, who spoke at the event about the value of handmade objects.

The parallels between the Hansen family's background and business and his own were striking, Blazek said.

"It's something I really take a lot of pride in, because these crafts are falling by the wayside.

"It's in our blood."

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