Light it up: Neon is having a comeback

From the walls of stylish homes and your favorite new restaurant to weddings and everything in between, it’s clear: Neon is having a comeback.

Ten years ago, Cajun Custom was struggling. Owner Clyde Bass watched neon companies around him fold, unsure what the future would hold for his own. Now, odds are if you see a sign with neon in Baton Rouge, Bass had a hand in it.

The bright lights over Outback Steakhouse and Acme Oyster House seen from I-10, the dazzling retro Coca-Cola and Raising Cane’s signs downtown, custom script work for Flambée Café and Soji—Cajun Custom has been commissioned or subcontracted for all of them. The mixture of artistry, craftsmanship and engineering is hard to come by, so these days Cajun Custom has become the go-to in the area.

Bass learned the craft at Ed Waldrum School of Neon in Irving, Texas. He explains the process like this:

His team starts with a paper design as a guide. Then, in one of the hundred-plus colors Cajun Custom stocks, they take four-foot tubes of glass, heat them, and bend them to fit the guide. Next, the tubes are heated to 600 degrees to vaporize any dust or particles inside and cleared out with a vacuum pump.

“Then you shoot a bunch of electricity through it, and once it gets cooled down you fill it up with gas, and then the tube lights up, and you seal it off,” Bass says in his heavy Monroe accent. He explains the routine as if it were so simple. But with a laugh he adds, “It’s a little more complicated than that—a lot of gauges to keep track of—but that’s the basic process.”

He thanks the recent surge in demand for neon for growing his business, but truthfully, he’s grown even further beyond custom work for restaurants and businesses. He’s created signs for Hollywood productions like Fantastic Four, Tremé and Oldboy, and he’s currently working on a huge commission for Decades of Wheels, a soon-to-come car museum in Baxter Springs, Kansas, which will be one of the largest car museums in the United States.

Small custom neons start around $400, but commercial pieces begin at $2,000—the priciest piece he’s ever done was $120,000.

“It’s functional art,” Bass says. “And if you do it right, it’ll last you decades.” cajuncustomneon.com

This article was originally published in the October 2018 issue of 225 Magazine.