HISTORIC NEON RESTORATION

UNITED STATES POSTAL MUSEUM

The second “Celebrate!” stamp issued by the U.S. Postal Service was inspired by art director Phil Jordan’s visit to the Museum of Neon Art in Los Angeles. Drawn to the exciting imagery and vivid colors, Jordan recognized that “The mechanics would be a monumental challenge.” He knew, however, the end result would be worth it. 

 

Jordan selected fine-artist Michael Flechtner to design America’s first neon stamp. Flechtner found his inspiration for the stamp in a fireworks display, noting that “...fireworks, with all their color, light, and motion, was the embodiment of a celebration.” 

 

Flechtner created a 34” by 44” design and then heated glass tubing to 1400 degrees Fahrenheit so it could be bent into letters and fireworks. To create the red-orange color, he filled some tubes with neon gas. The blue color was created by argon and mercury, while the other colors were made with phosphor coatings inside the tubes. The result is one of the most vibrant U.S. stamps ever issued, capturing the fun of a celebration and fireworks display with glowing neon.

HISTORIC CULTURAL AFRICAN-AMERICAN SIGNS

SMITHSONIAN NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFRICAN AMERICAN ART AND CULTURE

 

Kraft Studio has restored historic neon African American signs: millinery and the famous jazz club, Minton's playhouse from the 1930's to 1970's from Harlem and an original Soul Train sign from the 1990's. They will be installed in the new National Museum of African American History and Culture.

BRUCE NAUMAN "VIOLINS, VIOLENCE, SILENCE" (1981-1982)

Baltimore museum of art

 

Violins, Violence, Silence (1981-1982) by Bruce Nauman was donated by Castelli gallery to the Baltimore Gallery of Art in the early 1980s. The piece was fabricated by a sign shop in a hurried fashion, never imagining that it would become a seminal work and steadily increase in value. By the time I was called by the conservers in the late 1990s, the high voltage wire was bare and the transformers had begun to fail. The steel support frame was beginning to rust through. Using a 150' crane, we took the 40' x 6' x 1' sculpture down in four sections and stored it in the museum. The steel was refurbished, transformers completely changed out and all new high voltage wire was installed in flexible plastic conduit. The piece was then reinstalled onto the 40' high building. Given its level of decay, it became a remarkable restoration of a historic, seminal neon artwork.

 

Image: Bruce Nauman. Violins Violence Silence (Exterior Version). 1981 1982. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Leo Castelli Gallery, New York, and Sperone Westwater Fischer Gallery, New York, BMA 1984.2. © Bruce Nauman/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

JASPER JOHNS "FIELD PAINTING" C. 1963 - 1964

National Gallery of Art

 

On Tuesday, July 10, 2014 Craig was tasked with the repair of a very famous Jasper Johns painting, in collaboration with the National Gallery of Art. The painting in question, Field Painting c.1963-1964 pivots references both to art-making and Johns’ own career. The piece had broken in the neon “R” on the top either from heat and age or an overzealous museum attendee. Repair of the painting valued at $60 million was a top priority for the National Gallery.

 

The primary colors red, yellow, and blue are spelled out in letters hinged perpendicularly to the canvas, where they also appear in stencil-like doubles. Attached to them are various studio tools. The Savarin coffee tin and Ballantine beer can both allude to Johns’ studio paraphernalia and to his appropriation of them as motifs in his work. Passages of smeared and dripped paint, a footprint, light switch, and a neon “R” collude with other visual codes to multiply the possibility of associations. The repair began by carefully measuring the wooden framework holding the canvas and the neon letter “R” at the top of the painting.

 

After determining the mounting points the tube bending began. The tube used to create the “R” in this piece was scientifically annealed in order to increase longevity and strength. Once all of the new hardware was assembled Craig was able to enter the inner workings of the National Gallery to begin hands on repairs. After mounting the “R” in precisely the same location as the original a contemporary transformer was hard wired to the piece while also retaining all original wiring on the back. Needless to say after all of the wiring and mounting was completed and tested for proper function, everyone in attendance breathed a collective sigh of relief. It was truly an honor to be able to help maintain one of Jasper John’s pieces so it can continue to shine the way he originally envisioned.

Craig Kraft