Danielle James, 32, has spent the last six years blowing and bending glass into intricate shapes, proving that neon art, something of a fading medium, is still alive and thriving in the Bull City. James offers classes at her shop, Hex Neon, located at 305 South Dillard Street, that teach about the intricacies of neon art.

How did you discover your passion and skill for neon art?

I have a graduate degree in metalsmithing from ECU. So that is actually the very strange door that I used to enter neon. That led me to a shop in Atlanta, Georgia, called The Neon Company. They were nice enough to give me a two-week, kind of, “Yeah, you can come sweep our floors and check it out,” internship. And I fell in love with it. 

Your work highlights human beings’ relationships in times of social media. 

I was born in ‘88. I remember I was in high school when I got a cell phone. So I had a childhood without a screen, and that has impacted me—being the last remnant of remembering those things, but still growing up with social media. Online dating has been a part of my entire life. It’s how most of us now, I think, find people to hang out with. 

The first time that I got into actually making neon signs for my art form, I was in Raleigh at a place called Glas. I was given the opportunity to make a series of works based on messages that I got on OkCupid and Tinder, and that turned into a series called “Signs of the Times: A Single Lady’s Life in Neon.” There’s 12 of them. They range from serious, to goofy, to funny, to like, really gross. I’ve gotten a lot of really positive feedback from it. That was the first series of work that I feel highlighted what it is to be human, in this age, from my perspective. 

You’re offering some classes to the public. How’s that going? 

Right now, I’m offering a one-night “Neon Date Night” for two people for two-and-a-half hours. You get to take home a 16-inch neon sign. Right now, I’m kind of doing different colored paper airplanes. But if you contact me a little more in advance, and you want something specific—like, I did a heart for a couple recently, and it’s all one price. It’s the history and entire process included.

What is your ultimate goal with neon art? 

My goal is to offer repair services and custom neon services. More than that, my goal is to educate people about this endangered craft that is neon, glassblowing, and bending. We need to have more people getting interested in it and supporting local neon artists, if it’s going to survive the way that blacksmithing and basket weaving survived in their artistic ways. Saving what’s around still from that time period, and also educating everybody about how every single neon sign that you see was built by a person. If we could have been replaced by a machine, by now we would have. 

Learn more about James and Hex Neon at their website.

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