Grant #462

Hex Neon

August 16, 2021

What Would YOUR Neon Sign Say? Wait, First You Need A Neon Bender.

Sure, you can have a neon font, or a fake neon sign, but for the real deal – neon gas in a glass tube, you need a skilled human. Danielle James is one of the dwindling number of such artisans. DJ, says, “I bend molten glass into words for money every day. Every single real glass neon sign you see out in the world was made by human hands. I love that my craft is over 100 years old but they still have not figured out a way for robots to replace the neon bender.”

It’s a disappearing art. “Neon bending has recently been put on the endangered crafts list in the UK, and most neon benders are above the age of 55,” says DJ. “I am painfully aware of how important education is to the survival of my field. I offer many types of classes to share the history of putting lightning in a tube.”

What’s her awesome idea? “To continue my quest to educate everyone possible about the scientific and artistic marvel that is neon sign making, I want to offer an actual 2-year long apprenticeship to someone younger than myself. I currently only have one set of fires and that will not work for teaching. I will need more torches and more equipment. Neon equipment is not easy to come by so I will be relying on personal contacts to get most of my tools.” Our grant will help get that second fire going.

Neon Signs are in our Awesomeness Hall of Fame. Imagine our relief when DJ told us that “Neon is still considered the greenest form of light and does not contain any plastics or heavy metals that cannot be recycled like LEDs.”

If real neon lights you up, check out DJ’s HexNeon shop in Durham.

Category: Art, Design, Women



After 11+ years, we’re signing off and closing applications for good. We’ve supported 571 projects with $571,000 in grant dollars. We’re so proud to have celebrated such incredible work. Please visit for more information on other AWESOME chapters! And thanks for sharing so much awesomeness with us.

Team Awesome Without Borders