NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Brooklyn Glass fills a warehouse-like space that lives near the intersection of 13th Street and 3rd Avenue, tucked behind a gas station and an auto repair shop.
Here Brooklyn Glass co-founder David Ablon leads several eager students who have signed up to learn how to work with neon. He is a thin man, with brown but graying hair, surrounded by his medium.
“You’re almost feeling like it’s dangerous, but it’s safe, so you almost end up with kind of an adrenaline high—playing with hot glass,” he says.
His students listen reverently as he speaks about the century-old art of bending neon.
“It’s mesmerizing,” he says. “To be able to make it is almost magical.”
Neon has been receiving a lot of attention recently, becoming a social media star of its very own.
These days neon can be found just about anywhere: Trendy restaurants, nightclubs, office spaces. Its unique character reflects that neon cannot be machine made. Every piece requires a human being to handle heated glass that can get to over 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
Tech-native generations flock to neon as they work frenetically to digitally document their experiences. At some of the country’s most exciting venues, neon has become a way to say “I was here.”
“At art fairs, you’ll see people taking selfies with the neon,” says Ablon. “It’s a phenomenon.”
For $280 dollars, anyone can sign up to take a neon bending class at Brooklyn Glass. The beginner’s class teaches people how to heat glass, how to blow it, how to bend it and how to handle it. The one-day workshop does not teach first-time students how to make masterful works of art, but students do leave with the abstract squiggles they have made themselves.
Ablon says most of his students have no experience working with glass.
“They are very experienced in other fields – architecture, accounting, design – all sorts of things,” says Ablon. “But they come in to get their hands dirty and actually do something. They make a piece of neon, light it up and take it home.”
The life-long artist says that in many ways, neon has gone from the hardware store to high style. There is a Tiffany & CO. display in Manhattan that uses neon.
“Certain artists have grasped it, so it’s become kind of public,” Ablon says. “Before, neon was always hiding behind plastic with big commercial signs. Now it’s in high fashion. People are using neon because they like the look of it, it’s really unique.”
When asked about the future of neon, Ablon takes a mindful moment. In a generation, the art of neon has evolved dramatically.
“Good question,” he says. “The future of neon is yet to be known. I could never have predicted where it is today.”
But if he had to take a guess?
“I see a lot of movement toward animation and 3-dimensional work,” he says. “That, I think is the future.”
142 13th St.,
Brooklyn, NY 11215
– Kim Bainbridge