Thursday, October 01, 2015
Making neon signs is a dangerous art. Glass tubes heated to 1,400 degrees can shatter, sending razor-sharp shards into the hands of an artist whose concentration has flickered momentarily. Neon artists gamble on skill, eye, focus and a deft touch every time they make a beautiful sign for a restaurant, bar, car wash or other business that craves this form of eye candy.
Ortwein Signs has taken that gamble several times a week for more than 90 years. Founded in 1923 by a German immigrant to Chattanooga named Ortwein, it now has locations in Knoxville and Nashville.
Neon signs are making a comeback in the area thanks to hipsters, he says, those urban millennials who love neon for the artisan talent, old-school handcrafting and unearthly glow, like starlight captured in a bottle.