Glass bender melds art, science to create and restore neon signs
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Amy Palms has been perfecting her skills as a glass bender for more than 20 years. Palms, a Brooklyn native, studied glass blowing, neon and mixed-media sculpture at Alfred University in Upstate New York, where she fell in love with the art of neon.
Since 1998, Palms has been the chief glass bender for Neon Works, a neon sign company in Oakland owned by Jim Rizzo. Neon Works specializes in restoring old neon signs for local business fronts and creating pieces for artists, tech companies and other businesses around the Bay Area. Most notably, Palms worked with other glass benders to restore the Castro Theatre sign for filming of the movie “Milk.”
Although Palms considers herself more of an artist, she uses a great amount of science to create neon. Noble gases such as argon and neon are added to specialized glass tubes, where air and impurities are vacuumed out. From there, electrodes are attached to both ends to create a neon sign.
“People don’t think about the fact that neon is all handmade,” she says. “Every beer sign and every bar window is all handmade, and that’s one of the things I never realized before I started doing neon.”
Palms’ background in art studies has fueled her creativity for new pieces, though some are more challenging than others. Creating smaller bends in the tubes and specific lettering can take years of practice to master.
“To become a good bender takes three to five years,” Palms says. “It’s more of a feel. You can’t see it, so you feel how it comes together. When I graduated college, I couldn’t just start making letters because they look funky.”
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