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Wednesday, May 15 • 4:00pm - 4:30pm
(Electronic Media) And there Was Light: Restoring the Notman & Son Neon Sign

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How do you restore a damaged neon sign to working order with limited documentary evidence?

A heavily damaged 1950s neon sign was conserved and restored at the McCord Museum. The neon sign came from the storefront of the Notman & Son photography studio in Montreal. The studio’s founder, Scottish-born William Notman, established his photography practice in Montreal in the 1850s and quickly became a major artistic and entrepreneurial figure, photographing the people and places of a prospering and changing city. The McCord Museum holds a significant collection of Notman photographs and artifacts, which function as an invaluable social history. The neon sign was included in a major 2016 exhibition showcasing this collection, Notman: A Visionary Photographer. The goal of the conservation treatment was not only to stabilize and conserve the sign, but to restore it to working order, so it could be lit and understood as a functioning neon sign in the exhibition. Having been used outside for 20-some years and stored in poor conditions for 30 years, the sign was in poor condition. The metal base was extremely dirty, dented, and rusted, with multiple layers of peeling and flaking paint. The transformers inside were rusted and non-functional. The glass tubes were almost entirely missing – only two short broken fragments remained. The glass tubes could be re-created, but first we had to solve an important question: what was their original color? Neon lighting works by ionizing gas inside a sealed glass tube with an electric current to produce light. Despite the name, gases besides neon can be used, and each produces a distinct color. The glass tubes can be clear or coated with a phosphorescent metal oxide, which fluoresces to produce a different final color. We had no documentary evidence of the color of our sign. Fortunately, the Montreal neon artist and expert Gérald Collard was able to examine and test the remaining glass fragments, and by connecting them to a current, determine their color. He was then able to re-create glass tubing for the sign based on the shape of the metal letter channels and archival photographs to achieve a historically accurate reproduction. The metal base also underwent a major treatment in the conservation lab. It was cleaned, consolidated, stabilized, and inpainted with the help of multiple conservators working for several weeks. In the end, this ambitious treatment was a success. Through a combination of conservation and restoration, using documentary evidence, teamwork, and collaboration with outside expertise, the neon sign shone brightly once again during the exhibition.

Speakers
avatar for Sonia Kata

Sonia Kata

Conservator, McCord Museum
Sonia Kata has a Master’s degree in Art Conservation, Artifacts Concentration, from Queen’s University, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Art History from the University of Guelph. She has completed internships at the Royal Ontario Museum, the McCord Museum, and the City of Hamilton... Read More →


Wednesday May 15, 2019 4:00pm - 4:30pm EDT
Passamaquoddy/Brothertown Rooms Sky Convention Center, Mohegan Sun
  Specialty Session, Electronic Media